Chronic health conditions have rapidly increased over the past 30 years, with one of the predominant factors being diet. Western diets characterized by a high consumption of refined sugar, trans fats, and processed foods are associated with increased health risks. The Mediterranean diet (MedDiet), characterized by high consumption of vegetables, fruit, olive oil, nuts, seeds, fish and poultry, has been extensively studied for its large range of benefits to health and reduced risk of disease.

While a MedDiet is well recognized as one of the most healthy dietary patterns, nutritional guidance generally recommends a “one size fits all” approach, which hasn’t had a great impact on the growing rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Personalized dietary interventions that take individual elements into consideration such as current diet, phenotype, and genotype, have been shown to be more effective in changing dietary behaviors.

While face-to-face interventions are effective, Internet-based interventions are scalable and more cost effective. Until now, there have been no studies evaluating whether an Internet-based dietary intervention can help people achieve a greater adherence to the MedDiet pattern.

In a new study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers have discovered that personalized Internet-based interventions, could be a solution to engaging people in healthier eating behaviors.

The Food4Me PoP 6-month, 4-arm, randomized trial with 1,270 participants, aimed to improve dietary intake of food groups and nutrients in line with the MedDiet pattern, and used an Internet-based lifestyle intervention to compare the outcomes of personalized dietary and physical activity advice with generalized diet and lifestyle guidance. Participants were given access to a range of online information, along with access to dietitians, nutritionist and researchers via email.

The two primary outcomes, measured via MedDiet score and various anthropometric measures, were whether more personalized dietary advice motivated people to choose a healthier diet compared to conventional dietary guidelines; and whether providing highly personalized genotype and phenotype dietary information further motivated people to sustain those healthy changes.

At the end of the 6-month intervention, the participants assigned to personalized dietary advice had a higher adherence to the MedDiet compared to controls. And for those that received diet, phenotype and genotype advice, healthy dietary adherence was even higher. Since the trial was run in several European countries, further data analysis revealed that participants in non-Mediterranean countries (United Kingdom, Ireland, Netherlands, Germany, and Poland) had higher adherence than those in Mediterranean regions (Greece and Spain).

The authors concluded that personalized nutrition advice is a more effective method for improving adherence to a MedDiet than general dietary guidance. Being that a MedDiet has been shown to reduce cardiovascular risk, cancer incidence, and overall mortality, the fact that an Internet-based intervention education and guidance could be implemented on a wide scale deserves further investigation for public health programs that may provide great health benefits and reduced disease risk for wider populations.

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