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Online Nutrition Programs: The Debate

September 8, 2011

(Ivanhoe Newswire) — As lifestyles get busier and waistlines get bigger, many people are turning to online nutrition programs, but are they worth your time?

Computer-tailored nutrition education has been promoted as a promising health education strategy, especially for lower fat intake. Investigators from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Maastricht University, and Erasmus University in the Netherlands put these computer programs to the test.

Instead of just looking at self-reported dietary recalls, which can be skewed by portion size errors, underreporting, and socially desirable answers, the researchers evaluated a more reliable outcome — blood lipids. Blood lipids or “blood fats” are mainly composed of fatty acids and cholesterol and their values can be used to measure total cholesterol, fats and cardiovascular health risks.

“Computer-tailored intervention with a single dose, aimed at reduction of (saturated) fat intake, for which meaningful effects based on self-reports have been reported, was not sufficient to produce detectable changes in blood lipids in the current study,” Drs. Willemieke, PhD and Johannes Brug, Phd, Assistant Professor and Professor at the Vrije Universiteit, were quoted as saying.

So what does this mean? Computerized nutrition programs are not having the desired effect on users. When asked how to improve outcomes from consulting online nutrition advice, Dr. Kroeze suggests “strategies should be developed to improve the intensity and duration of computer-tailored interventions, and to incorporate social interaction in the intervention.”

The study documents the importance of identifying key factors that influence a person´s ability to change dietary behaviors, especially through online nutrition education. It also illustrates the need to critically evaluate nutrition education efforts since online interventions are often developed as a cost-saving mechanism and to increase the program´s reach.

SOURCE: Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior