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Nutrition Research

Improving eating behaviours among low-income women and their families

Using the supermarket as the research lab, a behaviour change program aimed at improving nutrition attitudes and behaviours amongst low-income women has proven a success.

Led by Professor Kylie Ball, researchers within the Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research ( C-PAN ) recently completed a randomised controlled trial of a supermarket-based intervention research program, ShopSmart 4 Health, aimed at improving fruit and vegetable consumption behaviours among low-income women and their families in Victoria.

ShopSmart 4 Health was conducted in the community and supermarket settings, via a partnership between C-PAN, the National Heart Foundation of Australia, and Coles supermarkets.

The program targeted women, as they are the key ‘gatekeepers’ primarily responsible for household food selection and preparation; hence they have potential to influence the eating behaviours of entire families/households. It involved an intervention of 6 months duration, with pre- and post-intervention data collection by survey and using supermarket transaction (sales) data to evaluate intervention effects.

The program provided women with skills related to food purchasing and preparation. It covered a broad range of activities targeting evidence-based determinants of healthy eating, including menu/meal planning; budgeting; food selection; nutrition information; label reading; navigating the supermarket; food preparation and cooking; adapting recipes to improve nutrition; and engaging children/partner in healthy eating. These were delivered through resource packages and behaviour change materials, mailed regularly to women, and dietitian-led supermarket tours.

ShopSmart 4 Health achieved outstanding recruitment and retention success. More than 240 women were recruited within three weeks, with a waiting list accrued. By program completion, 12 months later, 95% of women remained engaged and completed final evaluation surveys.

The program showed positive outcomes on behaviours, including increased vegetable consumption. Participants rated the program as appealing and helpful, and particularly enjoyed the supermarket tours; many reported ongoing use of program materials, and commented on the benefits for family members.

The ShopSmart 4 Health program was part of a broader supermarket intervention program which won the 2013 Victorian Health Promotion Foundation Award for Healthy Eating.

You can read the full study details here.

Author: Professor Kylie Ball

Funding acknowledgement
Australian Research Council Linkage Grant. Kylie Ball is supported by a NHMRC Principal Research Fellowship.

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