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Online Programs Inspire Healthy Diet


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By Margarita Nahapetyan

Online programs that provide people with information and tips regarding fruits and vegetables inspire them to eat healthier, say experts at Henry Ford Hospital.

As part of the study, the professionals recruited members of Health Alliance Plan and four other HMOs in Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis and Atlanta. The age of the participants ranged between 21 and 65 years. For the study purposes, all of them were divided in one of these three groups:

  • A control online program that focused on improving the participants' fruit and vegetable intake.

  • A program that was similar but personalized to the individual's needs.

  • A program that incorporated the other two components and was also supplemented with motivational interviewing counseling by means of e-mail.

Each of the programs included a total of four sessions. Each session, in turn, included 4 to 5 pages of core content, illustrations and optional links to provide the participants with more detailed information and special features designed to supplement session content. For instance, special features illustrated serving sizes and nutritional similarities of fresh fruit versus frozen fruit versus canned fruit. Another optional feature presented 300 fruit and vegetable-based recipes. Also, the experts offered the participants short video and audio files in order to reinforce text on behavioral strategies. Once available, all program components were accessible throughout the one-year-long study period. An optional feature offered menus that were individually created by nutrition experts and were generated on the basis of participants' fruit and vegetable preferences and dietary restrictions.

At the end of the experiment, the experts observed a significant improvement among the volunteers in all study groups, but the most significant changes were noted in the group that underwent motivational interviewing and received counseling. Dr. Gwen Alexander, PhD, assistant research scientist, and a co-author of the study, said that she and her team revealed that providing participants with gentle reminders that refocused them on their goals greatly improved progress. "They were being held accountable for their progress, which became a key motivator," Dr. Alexander added.

According to a principal author of the research, Dr. Christine Cole Johnson, Ph.D., M.P.H., chair of Henry Ford's Department of Biostatistics and Research Epidemiologym, people already know the health benefits of fruits and vegetables, but very often they have no idea how to incorporate this knowledge into their diet. "That is why our study worked. Using online programs, we were able to offer study participants practical and easy tips to increase their daily fruit and vegetable intake, "Dr. Johnson said.

At this time Drs. Johnson and Alexander are planning on conducting a similar study that will focus on individuals with the ages between 21 and 30 years, to find new strategies to help them incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diet, while accounting for their lifestyle.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, less than 25 per cent of adults in the United States eat 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day. Medical authorities say that those who consume more fruits and vegetables are less likely to develop a number of chronic diseases, including stroke and certain cancers.

The new findings are reported in the latest issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

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