Researchers test credibility of online nutrition advice for kids

Parents and carers should be wary of the vast array of online recipes and nutritional advice for healthy meals as some provide a lack of credible information.

Nutrition and dietetics experts at Flinders University worked with co-investigators from Cancer Council NSW to review 2000 online websites and 768 apps for examples of information that was consistent with the Australian dietary guidelines.

The investigation also considered content and functionality, and advises parents to use government or evidence-based websites to seek the best nutritional advice.

“We found websites consistent with the national dietary guidelines, often developed by or in partnership with government departments or non-government organisations, were more credible,” says Caring Futures Institute nutrition and dietetics researcher Dr Dorota Zarnowiecki.

Two Australian websites, Healthy School Lunchbox (NSW Government) and the CCNSW Healthy Lunch Box were found to have many of the best features.

Researchers found that many commercially developed apps scored lower if the content was less consistent with dietary guidelines and showing recipes that contained junk food or less nutritional options.

Parents are recommended to look for websites or apps that have been developed or reviewed by a government or non-government organisation, or a health professional.

The websites or apps should recommend a variety of foods from the five food groups and promote water as the main drink – in keeping with the Australian dietary guidelines.

Parents should also avoid websites or apps that promote processed foods and sugar sweetened drinks, as well as information that promotes unnecessary restriction of core food groups.

The paper, A systematic evaluation of digital nutrition promotion websites and apps for supporting parents to influence children’s nutrition (February 2020) by Dorota Zarnowiecki, Chelsea E. Mauch, Georgia Middleton, Louisa Matwiejczyk, Wendy L. Watson, Jane Dibbs, Anita Dessaix and Rebecca K. Golley was published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity (Springer Nature) DOI: 10.1186/s12966-020-0915-1.

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