Improving the quality of food shopping for the prevention of chronic disease
This research programme combines research at two levels: 1) Individual level interventions, where we use digital technologies (SwapSHOP app) to help support individuals to make food choices which have less saturated fat, salt and sugar and 2) Environmental level interventions, where we evaluate natural experiments and trials within supermarkets to improve the quality of food shopping through partnership with major UK retailers.
Part of our Changing Behaviours for Better Health and Preventing Disease research theme
The SwapSHOP app I think is very much needed and has great potential to make positive changes to peoples' diets. It's really helped me swap out some of the unhealthy products I buy for healthier alternatives, helping me to cut down on my salt intake. It's surprisingly easy to make those swaps.What we eat, and how much of it, can influence our health in a variety of different ways. For example, how much salt you eat can affect your blood pressure and your risk of developing heart disease or stroke. Too many calories can influence your risk of gaining weight.
- Public Weight Management Panel member
In the busy, complex environment we currently live in, it can be very difficult to know which foods might be good or bad for us. Even food marketed as low fat may turn out to be unhealthy due to a higher than usual amount of sugar or salt added for taste.
The wide adoption of ‘traffic light’ labelling systems to provide easy-to-read health information are a definite step in the right direction, but this still involves the shopper spending time comparing and contrasting with alternatives across the store.
People with high blood pressure or those at risk of developing diseases like diabetes, stroke and heart disease, which are strongly linked to diet, may benefit from support to make more health-appropriate choices in their food shopping.
Within the individual level interventions, we are developing an iPhone and Android app called SwapSHOP that consumers can use to scan the barcodes of the food products they usually buy and receive healthier swap suggestions for products.
This means that we can give people direct, tailored dietary advice or feedback at the point of purchase before they take their food home, enabling day-to-day choices that support a healthy diet without the need for a significant diet plan.
We will test whether this app supports people across the different ways we shop for food, whether it’s a daily meal purchase at a convenience store or a weekly shop in a supermarket, to find out whether these apps and tools can work for everyone.
For the environmental level interventions, we are working to provide interventions frameworks and support to help retail partners identify effective and scalable interventions within stores to achieve our aims. Secondly, we are developing and refining methods for the analysis of natural experiments, which usually involve analyses of complex datasets, including sales and loyalty card data.
How we are involving patients and the public
A patient and public involvement (PPI) panel was previously contacted to help develop the first version of the smartphone app. Public members from our Weight Management Panel, have reviewed, tested and provided feedback on our intervention materials and the smartphone app.
Public members will also help us to promote and disseminate information about the app to their own networks. Our industry partners will also help to promote the uptake of the developed app through their customer network.
How we are planning to implement the research outputs
If the SwapSHOP feasibility trial shows the app is useable and acceptable by participants, we plan to conduct a larger study to evaluate the effectiveness of the SwapSHOP app in improving the nutritional quality of food purchasing and associated health outcomes.
If it is effective we would plan to embed the app in commercial weight loss services as an add-on to help people make healthier purchasing decisions, and also promote it as a resource for health care professionals working with patients with diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure to improve their diet.
We plan to disseminate our results and engage with retailers and manufacturers to implement the most effective environmental interventions across the nation.
Partners on this project
- Consumer Goods Forum
- Multiple major food retailers / supermarkets
We have been working with the retailers involved in the ‘Collaboration for Healthier Lives’ initiative to help people make healthier purchasing decisions in stores and when shopping online. We have confirmed data sharing agreements with three of the retailers involved, enabling us to access the necessary data required to evaluate in store interventions that promote healthier food purchasing behaviours
Project end date
- Our research aims to contribute evidence for effective interventions within supermarkets and at the individual level to help improve the health and environmental sustainability of consumer food choices;
- Secondly we aim to help reduce dietary health inequalities among UK consumers
- Development of a smartphone app (SwapSHOP) which works on all iPhone and Android devices and provides healthier alternatives to popular food products
- Academic publications and conference presentations to disseminate research findings
- Engagement with wider retail groups and other important stakeholders, including policy (PHE). Charities (Food Foundation, Guys St Thomas) to increase the adoption of effective interventions which help improve diet and health across the population.
- Supporting healthier food choices with less saturated fat, salt and sugar
- Clinical resource for people diagnosed with chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease
- Progress to a wider national roll out if the feasibility of the app is successful
- Wider national roll out for in store interventions that prove to be effective