Kickin' Nutrition TV
Programs such as KickinNutrition.TV use entertainment to educate.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Smartphones, immersive technology, virtual worlds and nutrition television are becoming more widespread as innovative new tools for messaging and nutrition education, according to several presenters at the Whole Grain Summit 2015.

In a June 25 session titled “Technology and new tools in nutrition education,” it was apparent that the ways in which industry may reach consumers is changing.

Paula Quatromoni, associate professor of nutrition at Boston Univ., is a firm believer in using entertainment to educate. Quatromoni and colleagues created KickinNutrition.TV as a nutrition education curriculum for middle-school students using digital technology, peer-education, and online activities to extend learning from school to home.

“What we were after was really recognizing that there was an opportunity for social media with how much kids and pre-teens are on-line, and how difficult it is to make healthy food choices, and empowering kids to be physically active,” Quatromoni said. “Also, from my experience being in schools, realizing how many obstacles teachers are up against to teach nutrition and a health and wellness curriculum and to have the devoted curriculum time and resources that are based on good evidence. I was really after something that would have very little work for the teachers to pick up and teach without a lot of training, and that would really be engaging to the students.”

In a quasi-experiment reaching 1,105 sixth-grade students, Quatromoni and colleagues tested how exposure to KickinNutrition.TV would affect nutrition-related behaviors. She said only 46 percent of students polled before the study said they knew how to identify a whole grain food. At the end of the program, students exposed to KickinNutrition.TV showed measurably larger shifts in self-efficacy in being able to identify whole grain foods.

Jonathan Richter, director for The Center for Learning in Virtual Environments at the Univ. of Oregon, focused his presentation on virtual worlds and video games. While noting that virtual worlds and video games have been blamed as a major cause for unhealthy, sedentary habits among US children, Richter also said there is potential for those types of technologies being used to engage people to live healthier lives.

“Highlight those aspects of reality that humans aren’t good at seeing within context, and provide this sort of embodied perspective by showing the scope, the scale and the long-term consequences on a personal level that they can understand,” he said. “You could have them go into a grain, and experience what it’s like at that scale and see things and interact within this and then see how that is affected through the entire supply chain. These are things that are not easy for people to understand, but by embodying those experiences they might make healthier choices.”

Smartphones are another device that holds promise in the area of nutrition education. Kay (Nobuko) Hongu, associate specialist in the Dept. of Nutritional Sciences at the Univ. of Arizona, discussed a program implemented at a junior high school in Pinal County, Ariz., where smartphone-based nutrition and physical activities were part of a physical education class.

The program used four interactive activities — treasure hunt, mapping, Earth drawing and tag — that included nutrition information to educate students. Using the smartphones, students were able to partake in multi-featured mapping including GPS and digital photography, as well as track physical activity such as miles walked.

“Preliminary data suggest that smartphone-based interventions have the potential to enhance physical activity,” Hongu said.

Carol Boushey, associate research professor and director of nutrition support shared research at the Univ. of Hawaii, wrapped up the panel discussion with a look at innovative tools for dietary assessment. Boushey described her work with a mobile food record geared toward improving the accuracy of the dietary record.

Using the image-based mobile food record, people take a picture of the food they are eating. The images are then analyzed and researchers are able to better assess dietary intakes. The goal in using the mobile food record is to aid in better estimating dietary intakes, Boushey said.

“Image-based dietary assessment appears to be a promising dietary assessment method that will likely be used in the future,” she said. “Improvements in technology will likely be easier to pursue than changing humans. These images will also broaden our research and provide better information.”