Food delivery apps could help tackle the obesity crisis by making lower-calorie options more prominent on their sites, research suggests.
A study, presented at the European Congress of Obesity in Dublin, involved creating a simulated food delivery app and conducting three randomised controlled trials involving 23,783 adult participants.
In each trial, participants were asked to choose a meal for themselves like they would in real life and then the number of calories in their basket at checkout was measured.
The research was led by Dr Filippo Bianchi and was sponsored by Nesta, a UK foundation and charity partly focused on health. It looked at different interventions within the app, including pre-selecting smaller portions by default, positioning lower-calorie foods more prominently, and displaying calorie labels. There was also a control group where the simulated app had no changes.
The results show that all for all three trials in which the app was altered, the purchases involved a lower number of calories on average. While the control group purchased an average of 1,408 kcal, the three trials recorded reductions of up to 15%.
The use of food delivery apps, which include Deliveroo and UberEats, has increased by 55% since 2015, with 25 million adults in the UK using them regularly.
Studies have shown that takeaway foods are often high in calories, with 47% of meals containing at least 1,000 kcal or more, which is about half of an adult’s daily recommended energy intake.
The study’s recommendations included that food delivery apps provide a filter letting users switch calorie labels on and off; communicate recommended energy intake per meal and not just per day; and avoid framing calorie label messaging or formatting as judgmental, such as by using red font.
Bianchi said the findings provided “encouraging proof-of-concept evidence that small tweaks in delivery apps could help many people to identify and select healthier foods”, adding:. “Testing similar initiatives with real restaurants and delivery apps will be important to assess the long-term impact of these interventions in the real world.
“Delivery apps could reach millions of people and help us select healthier food options, and yet there is very little research looking at what works to promote healthier and more nutritious options in these settings”.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously said Britain is on track to become the most obese nation in Europe. In a major report published last year, it said the growth of meal delivery apps, especially during the pandemic, was driving the UK’s obesity crisis.
Speaking at a press conference, Anna Keleher, a behavioural scientist at Nesta, said: “All industry does have a responsibility to their consumers and to public health, so as delivery apps become a larger piece of that pie, so does their responsibility grow.”
A Deliveroo spokesperson said: “Deliveroo is proud to bring consumers the best selection of food from restaurant and grocery partners in their local area, and this includes a large range of healthy choices. We also make it easy for consumers to find healthier choices through improved in-app navigation, and for restaurants to display calorie information on their menus”.
Source : https://www.theguardian.com/society/2023/may/18/delivery-apps-could-help-fight-obesity-by-boosting-low-calorie-options-says-study?