by Stephanie Overby

DATA MANAGEMENT – A New Tape Measure

Jun 01, 20022 mins
Enterprise Applications

Health-conscious shoppers might soon have an easier way to track their diet than reading food package labels. The bar codes currently used at supermarket checkouts to identify a product and its price could also provide its nutritional profile.

Researchers at the United Kingdom’s University of Leeds and the Public Health Nutrition Unit (PHNU) at Trinity and All Saints College found that a shopper’s supermarket receipt could provide a good indication of fat consumption levels. In our society, more than 90 percent of our food comes from supermarkets, so receipts are as good a measure of household fat intake as a food diary (in which people often underreport what they actually eat), says PHNU Director Joan Ransley. She led the two-year study, supported by a grant from the Medical Research Council with funds from the U.K. Department of Health.

Ransley admits that adding up fat grams only after an afternoon of aisle-cruising isn’t ideal. “It would be useful for the consumer to see a fat tally before the final purchase, but this may not be practical given supermarket queues,” she explains. “But consumers could use the tally to educate themselves so that better choices could be made during subsequent shopping trips.”

Privacy concerns could pop up if the nutrition reports became commonplace. “In the U.K. we have the Data Protection Act, which does not allow information about an individual to be passed on to a third party without their consent,” says Ransley. “But provided this information is not passed on, it is OK to generate the data.”

In the future, researchers say, looking at aggregated receipts could allow more detailed analysis of a population’s nutritional intake and aid in the research into the links between diet and disease.