GS1 barcodes used to fight obesity

 

Mobile phone technology and GS1 barcodes can be harnessed to fight obesity successfully, according to a report released by GS1 Australia and Victoria University.

 

At a GS1 Global MobileCom conference in Singapore, GS1 Australia chief information officer Steven Pereira and Victoria University senior lecturer Dr Michael Mathai presented the outcome of their Nutritional Health Research Pilot Case Study.

 

During an eight-week trial conducted by Victoria University honours student Carla Battaglia at the university’s School of Biomedical and Health Sciences, overweight participants used mobile phones to scan GS1 barcodes on breads, breakfast cereals and biscuits and received a ‘traffic light’ rating of the sodium and saturated fat content of each of the products, based on recommended serving values from the National Heart Foundation.

 

To deliver the ratings the mobile phone application drew data, extracted from GS1 Australia’s electronic product catalogue the GS1net data pool, and supplemented it with data gathered from products from four major supermarkets in Melbourne’s west.

 

Project participants with a body mass index of more than 25 were invited to take part in a four-week observational stage in which they completed weekly three-day food diaries, followed by a trial stage where they scanned products, purchased products and retained their shopping dockets.

 

A database with participating consumers’ personalised characteristics and combined product data of breads, breakfast cereals and biscuit products, including their description, serving sizes and sodium and saturated fat content, produced a successful result when uploaded via a web application written by another Victoria University honours student, Vladislav Vintsarevich, and displayed via a mobile phone.

 

Schepisi Communications, a Telstra dealer, provided the project with 20 Nokia 6210 phones with a high-resolution auto-focusing camera, with access to the Internet.

 

GS1 France contributed its Codeonline mobile phone application that identifies a product by capturing a picture of the bar code and routing the call out to the product’s manufacturer web site. For this research, the application developer, QSN Technology, a Swiss company, made a slight modification and routed the call via an Australian third-party web service provided by Insqribe, to the Victoria University’s computer server where the database was hosted.

 

The study found 40 per cent of participants did change their purchase because of the information provided. While for the majority purchasing was not altered, due in part to their continued purchase for household members, the application made all participants more aware of their diet. The study established that while technology could make information accessible, education and motivational tools are needed to encourage participants to change their overall purchasing and eating habits. More than 90 per cent of participants indicated that such a system would be useful to their needs if more products were included.

 

Pereira said an industry set of extended-packaging information needed to be determined, supported by a process to automatically populate nutritional data in GS1net.

 

“Looking ahead, the logical direction is to expand the database to include the majority of products within the Australian supermarket range, as well as the inclusion of the main nutrients and other attribute information found on food labels, e.g. allergens, additives,” he said.

 

An industry initiative would be needed to urge suppliers and manufacturers who were not yet using GS1net to contact GS1 Australia to join GS1net and ensure that their data would be included in any future extended-packaging database initiative.

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