Simple initiatives to help people select lower-calorie options when ordering takeaways in delivery apps could help tackle the global obesity epidemic, suggests a study.
Obesity is a medical condition defined as abnormal or excessive accumulations of body fat that can put a person's health at risk.
The research, being presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Dublin showed that interventions which positioned lower-calorie foods and restaurants, more prominently, pre-selected smaller portions by default, and displayed calorie labels, all significantly reduced the total calorie content of takeaways by 2-15 per cent compared to a control app.
"Our findings suggest that simple interventions could help people select lower-calorie options on delivery apps without the need to remove less healthy options," said Dr. Filippo Bianchi from the innovation foundation Nesta and the Behavioural Insights Team, London, together with colleagues from the University of Oxford.
"This doesn't mean that we always have to swap pizza for a green salad -- even initiatives that make it easy to make small changes to what we eat could help to slowly reduce obesity, if delivered at scale," Bianchi added.
While takeaways can be a great treat, they tend to contain many more excess calories than meals cooked at home and are linked with higher risks of gaining too much weight.
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"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," Dr. Bianchi said.
To find out more, researchers developed a simulated food delivery app and conducted three randomised controlled trials including 23,783 adults (aged 18 or older who were users of food delivery apps) to evaluate 14 interventions promoting the selection of lower-calorie options against a control.
In each trial, participants were asked to choose a meal for themselves like they would in real life. The primary outcome was the total number of calories in the basket at checkout.
Global estimates suggest that almost 2.3 billion children and adults are living with overweight and obesity. If current trends continue, 2.7 billion adults could be living with overweight or obesity by 2025.
"These studies provide encouraging proof-of-concept evidence that small tweaks in delivery apps could help many people to identify and select healthier foods. 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," Dr. Bianchi said.
"Further research should also explore the best way to balance desired health impacts while minimising effects on businesses and on cost-of-living concerns for consumers,a he noted.
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