NHS Food Scanner Launch for Better Health Campaign

NHS Food Scanner App – Will it help?

The NHS has developed a food scanner app, to make it easier and to encourage families to switch to healthier foods. The App has been backed by influential people, one of them being a former Girls Aloud Singer Nadine Coyle.

Nadine Coyle has stated:

“As a busy working mum, I find it hard to say no to my kid’s demands and often give in to ‘snack’ pressure – even though I know it’s not that good for them. I had no idea some foods were so high in sugar, saturated fat and salt – so it’s great that the app gives you alternatives.

I love using the NHS Food Scanner App and so does my daughter; she likes choosing the healthier swaps which is great – we are already making small changes through good food choices.”

The App features things such as barcode scanning and offering healthier alternatives than the specific product scanned, that the consumer can look for. These alternatives are designed by the app to be less in sugar, saturated fat, and/or salt content. However, although nutritional information is given, it is up to the person to decide if the alternative suggestion would be beneficial for their personal health and dietary requirements, as there are no customisable options within the application.

So, why has this been developed?

The government and the NHS have been campaigning recently, with the launch of the ‘Better Health’ campaign to help those working towards better health by offering free support and guidance. (Dedicating £100 million of funding to this campaign.)

The ‘Better Health’ campaign, aids to tackle the issue of the rise in obesity and the prevention of problems such as; diabetes and tooth decay in children, and the pandemic and lockdowns have promoted the increase of. Recent studies have shown that parents have been giving unhealthy snacks to children during the pandemic, increasing the rate of childhood obesity between the 10–11-year-olds studied.

This is not the only factor that has been the cause in increased obesity for the population, as through lockdowns over the course of the pandemic, it has been difficult for the population to exercise fully and stay motivated to eat healthier. There have been mitigating issues, such as availability of products and a decrease in funds over the furlough scheme as people work from home. Through all of this, there has been an increase in people's screen time usage and take-away/ convenient food usage that have added to the findings. The Department of Health and Social Care, have joined the campaign to help tackle these issues from their research.

A survey released by Netmums, produced results showing that 58% (6 out of 10) of parents gave their children more sugary or fatty snack foods now than before the pandemic. The results also showed that 64% of parents are worried about how healthy children’s snacks really are, with a result of almost 90% stating they would benefit from using the NHS Food Scanner application, now that these changes have been made to make healthier food swaps for their children.

Annie O’Leary, Netmums editorial director, when asked about the app, stated:

“That two-thirds of parents find they’re giving kids more treats as snacks than pre-pandemic doesn’t surprise me in the slightest – we all comfort ate our way through the pandemic and I know my kids ate far more treats than usual.

But thank heavens there’s now something to help get us all back on track. And that it’s from the gold standard in terms of trustworthiness, the NHS, hopefully, means millions of families will be downloading it and using it ASAP.

Shopping for snacks can be an absolute minefield for busy parents, so thank you for coming to the rescue yet again, NHS.”

The main focus campaign point, is about educating families to show within their diet habits, what they are really eating and by changing some small things to alternatives it could benefit their health and their children’s health. The app makes it inclusive for the whole family to get involved with their ‘Scan, Swipe and Swap’ improvements, implementing involvement within being able to choose the food swaps and seeing the nutritional benefits. These implementations can make it fun for children when using the app, to be part of the choice-making process as well as teach them at the same time. It can also improve habits in those who are fussy eaters to make their own choices and explore different food options.

So, will it really help?

As we enter 2022, the general consensus of the population is looking to better their health and dietary habits.

The app has been developed to signpost people by using the ‘Good Choice’ badge for healthier food and drink choices that align with the government’s dietary recommendations for added sugar, saturated fat, and salt within foods.

A survey conducted by Netmums, resulted in figures showing 90% of parents would benefit from using the app to make healthier choices for their children. As the app is free, it is the quickest way to provide support for these people who may have limited time when shopping.

Using other resources and guidance such as; free fitness apps is beneficial and helps keep people motivated and focused to carry on with exercise. The integration of those apps with an app like this one from the NHS will keep people focused and forward-thinking in their alternative choices for their diet given by the app. People have the quickest insight that will save time and help them maintain their health goals. However, some alternatives can be higher in price and as described in our previous article, it can be tough for low-income families to take up some of these alternatives.

It is wise to use apps where you can that will be beneficial but ultimately make your own judgment on alternatives and tailor it to your specific needs and dietary requirements.

There is no information regarding if the app is customisable, that might be the next step to take for them. (For example; customising it to show free-from alternatives only) This will make the app more inclusive and if there is a specific price cap to add, this can help lower-income families to still be able to make healthier choice options for their diet.

So, what is the take-away?

The application is a great starting point and integrating it with other applications can help keep people motivated and on track to better their health and maintain healthier diets. It is possible for the application to be improved upon as this campaign deepens and it will be interesting to see the results and how the childhood obesity curve will decrease, should people take on these application and education tools.

It is important to look at all of the information given on these products by the food labels to make your decision and not just go by what the application says as the application is currently generic and not specific to each person's needs.

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