CAN TECHNOLOGY HELP CLIENTS REACH NUTRITION GOALS?

Drawing on research findings, Kelly Sumich looks at how the health and fitness industries use technology to enhance nutritional outcomes for clients.

The use of technology and social media has been included as a component of the dietitian curriculum at the University of Maryland in the US. The course directors strongly believe the future of nutritional solutions will focus on effective technological and communication skills1.

So, how can technology enhance the work you do with clients?

Smartphone nutrition apps

In addition to being an effective means of communicating with clients, smartphones can also be a useful educational tool. Research has found that one of the leading benefits of nutritional applications downloaded to smartphones is their convenience, partly facilitated by real-time documentation which allows clients to enter their nutritional intake immediately after eating, and to accurately log foods consumed by scanning barcodes of food products2. Perhaps the old adage ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ could evolve into ‘an app a day could keep obesity at bay’.

However, the research suggests that when reviewing a nutritional application you need to consider how extensive the database listings are, how the portion sizes are presented, the interface design3 and the cost of the application4.

Web-based food diaries

Data that gauged clients’ opinions on completing web-based food diaries was collected in 2012 by an Australian research group. The opinions of the health professionals providing the nutritional consultation for the clients were also examined. Findings indicated that the clients needed less consultation time after completing the food diary online because:

a) The health professional did not have to dedicate time to coding the client’s food and fluid intake, and calculating the analysis of results, and;

b) The client received the results instantly, enabling them to consider these and possible changes before meeting with the health professional.

The consequences of clients completing the food assessment diary prior to their nutritional consultation were that both they and the health professional could use the consultation time to focus on solution strategies rather than the gathered information5.

This method of diary assessment was also found to be reliable and cost effective. Some clients, however, were concerned about the confidentiality of their data and some of the health professionals were concerned that the clients would use the analysis to bypass them and try and resolve their nutritional problems by themselves. It was found that while the online food diary could increase awareness of their problem areas, it may not always create behavioural change5.

Interestingly, a 2012 study compared the use of behavioural change strategies via face-to-face consultations with technological strategies including an armband that monitored energy expenditure and an internet food diary combined with a monthly phone call offering behavioural support strategies over a six-month period. Results showed that the technological strategies combined with the monthly phone calls correlated with greater weight loss results and program adherence than the face-to-face behavioural change strategies group that didn’t use technological methods. The combination of the two strategies achieved the best results. The research concluded that the application of technology in the improvement of nutritional intake had evidential merit6.

 

Webinars to enhance nutrition communication

As a real-time visual communication channel, webinars can be an excellent way to involve a number of people spread over an extensive geographic area, although they can be perceived as too difficult to implement due to the technical know-how and specific software needed to set them up7.

Nutrition webinars

The Nutrition Society of Australia hosts an ongoing series of webinars. To view upcoming webinars visit www.nsa.asn.au/index.php/calendar_of_events/nsa_national_webinars/current_webinar_program/


Research findings into the effects of technology on nutritional strategies have been overwhelmingly positive. With most clients now possessing smartphones and having ready access to the internet, these findings pose the question of how you can best incorporate technology into the service you deliver as a fitness professional.

References

1. McShane, P., Fatzinger, W., Braunscheidel, E., Sargent, C., & Paleg, B.(2012) Technology to support practice: dietetic train extension staff in social media and technology tool to enhance marketing and time management. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, 112: Supplement: A96

2. Albrecht, J., Larvick, C., Litchfield, R., & Weishaar, C. (2012) Leftovers and other food safety information for iphone/ipad application (“smartphone technology”). Journal of Nutrition Education & Behavior, 44 (5), p 469-71.

3. Ali, N., Shahar, S., Kee, Y., Norizan, A., & Noah, S. (2012). Design of an interactive digital nutritional education package for elderly people. Informatics for Health & Social Care, 37 (4) p 217-29.

4. Hongu, N., Hingle, M., Merchant, N., Orr, B., Going, S., Mosqueda, M., & Thomson, C. (2011) Dietary Assessment Tools Using Mobile Technology. Topics in Clinical Nutrition, 2011 Oct-Dec; 26 (4): 300-11.    

5. Probst, Y., & Tapsell, L. (2012) Computerised dietary assessment interviews. Health professionals and patients’ opinions about web communications. Nutrition & Dietetics . 69 (1) p 56.

6. Pellegrini, C., Verba, S., Otto, A., Helsel, D., Davis, K., & Jakicic, J.(2012) The comparison of a technology-based system and an in-person behavioral weight loss intervention. Obesity 20 (2) p 356

7. Snetselaar, L., Hollinger, D., Smith, K., Myers, E., Spahn, J., (2010). Web-based technology enhances telephonic nutrition counseling skills of registered dieticians in Canada. Topics in Clinical Nutrition, 25 (3) p 244-9.

 

Kelly Sumich
Kelly is a qualified sports scientist and researcher who has featured in magazines, newspapers and on radio. She serves as the director of the Sports Science Education Institute which offers CEC sports science and coaching children courses at www.sportsscienceeducation.com.au. Kelly is an award winning presenter and author of the Coaching Children: Sports Science Essentials book available at https://shop.acer.edu.au

 

Get a taste of Kelly’s nutrition know-how during her WAFIC 2013 session:

• The latest in weight loss research • C3C

For more information, session details and to register online, visit www.waficperth.com.au