Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the NZME. News Service office in Wellington.

Eating healthier with your smartphone

Dr Helen Eyles of the National Institute for Health Innovations shows the food package scanning iPhone app Foodswitch.Photo / Chris Gorman
Dr Helen Eyles of the National Institute for Health Innovations shows the food package scanning iPhone app Foodswitch.Photo / Chris Gorman

A new smartphone application, designed to help consumers choose healthy food options, has been given the thumbs up by health experts and consumers.

Foodswitch, which was launched yesterday, allows users to scan the barcode of packaged foods using their Smartphone camera, and they should then receive immediate nutritional advice on the product.

The app also offers users healthier choices of the same type of food.

The free app was originally developed in Australia by The George Institute for Global Health and tailored for New Zealand shoppers by The National Institute for Health Innovation (NIHI) at Auckland University.

The app has nutritional information of more than 8000 packaged food products found in supermarkets here.

Institute researcher and nutritionist Helen Eyles said if a product was not available on the app, consumers could take a photo of it and send it to NIHI to have it included on the database.

Heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other diseases - largely caused by poor diets - were the biggest killers in New Zealand, she said.

"Choosing a healthier diet has to be made easier, because good eating habits are one of the best and most cost-effective ways to prevent disease," Dr Eyles said.

Associate Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu, who leads NIHI's nutrition research programme, said for too long, people had been "bewildered by confusing food labels".

"Research shows that people like traffic light labels and can use them to make healthier food choices."

New Zealand Nutrition Foundation chief executive Sue Pollard said the app was the "way of the future".

"All packaged food now has to have nutritional information, and this allows people to get it by another means.

"Sometimes those labels are so small and you can't see them."

The app was a very good idea that was well thought through, she said.

People could compare foods by looking at labels on different packets, but Ms Pollard said the app made that process quick and easy.

Heart Foundation public health advisor Maggie McGregor said they strongly supported any tool that made it easier for people make healthy food choices.

"We need more tools that use modern technology that people are using to help them get on with the world and making day-to-day choices."


Reaction from supermarket shoppers:

* Cyrus McEnnis said he would use the application. "I have a smartphone and I'm used to QR codes and I do it anyway when I'm doing the shopping lists, so it's no real big deal for me. I pretty much buy what I buy, but having nutritional value there, yeah, that'd be helpful."

* Christine Nichols said if she had an iPhone she would definitely use the app because it was always good to know the nutritional value of food.

* Randall Smith thought the app would be useful. "It's often hard to see exactly what's in the kind of foods you'd be buying, so it's easier just to scan it with your smartphone and see exactly what's in them."

* Joanna Piatek would probably use the app. "I'm one of those people who do read the packages. I do like using a smartphone and apps."

* Sarah Whitefield used a different app that provided the same sort of service. "It's really helpful to be able to identify the better food items while you're at the supermarket."

* Ann Walker said it would be really helpful. "I am conscious about weight and I try to keep healthy, and so it's actually quite hard to know which are the healthy foods."

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