Smart Food Intake: uncovering the reasons behind our food choices
Why does one person have an apple for their afternoon snack, while someone else has a slice of pizza? As nutritional scientists, we are finding out more and more about what people eat within a single day. We also know that context is king. Where you are, who you are with, how you are feeling… it all makes a difference. But we still don’t know enough about the exact relationship between food choices and reasons behind them in various contexts. With the Smart Food Intake project, we are developing a method that will allow us to find out more.
A quick insight into food intake and context
As part of the Smart Food Intake project, we are working on a smart system together with FrieslandCampina, Unilever, Philips and Danone to rapidly collect reliable data on food intake and the reasons why we choose the food that we do. The research methods used to date are time-consuming and expensive, and they do not take into account the fact that context has a huge influence on what someone eats or drinks. What is more, existing methods are quite demanding for participants, who are required to fill in extensive questionnaires and detailed information about their eating habits. With our FoodProfiler app, the gathering of data has already become more easy and accurate.
The link between intake, reasons and context
The Smart Food Intake project aims to develop a methodology, with the use of an app. There are plenty of apps available to measure food intake, but there are many scientific concerns about these. With the app we are developing, participants enter what they have had to eat and drink and in what context, more or less in real time. The link between the intake, reasons and context is extremely interesting from a scientific point of view. It allows us to gain a better understanding of why someone eats what they do. Why does one person always opt for a healthy snack while someone else chooses a snack that often contains too much fat, salt or sugar? How do family or friends influence eating habits? And what role do our physical surroundings play?
Useful for science and business alike
Because the methodology can be applied flexibly, it can also be used by others in their own research projects. We are looking to collect the mountain of data generated within a single platform. Smart Food Intake ties in quite nicely with the joint European research infrastructure within the domain of nutrition, health and behaviour, which we at Wageningen University & Research are working hard towards. This is something that involves not only us as scientists, but also businesses in the food industry. If we know the context behind food choices, we can focus our work much more accurately on sustainable and healthy products that fit within that context. Food companies can then better relate to their consumers’ needs when it comes to their marketing.
Much more to be discovered
There is still a lot more research to be done. How can we collect reliable data without placing too much pressure on participants? How can we integrate data into a wider European platform so that data is comparable? And what agreements need to be made regarding data sharing? By 2020, when the project comes to an end, we want to find as many answers as possible. This is an exciting project that will allow us to vastly expand our knowledge – something which ultimately we need to do if we are to help people make healthier choices when it comes to eating.
Want to know more about this topic? Visit Research infrastructure for health and nutrition on wur.nl.