App for healthier food choices gets Indian touch

FoodSwitch app will show level of salt, sugar and fat in a food product

sonal

Sonal Matharu | December 3, 2015



An international app has been modified to suit Indian needs and it will guide consumers to shop for healthier food options and avoid chronic lifestyle diseases.

FoodSwitch app designed by the George Institute for Global Health, Sydney, breaks down the ingredients of food product into simple components of sugar, salt and fat and shows through colour coding whether the product has permissible limits of salt, sugar, fat or not.

The app, which took six months to be modified to suit the Indian needs, is designed to cover all foods that come to India and are available for sale in the markets. It is not limited to the food products manufactured here, said Vivekanand Jha, executive director, George Institute for Global Health.

FoodSwitch has a database of about 10,000 packaged food products compiled in collaboration with the Centre for Chronic Disease Control, a Delhi-based non-profit research organization and Public Health Foundation of India, a public-private health think tank.  It is available free of cost for iOS and android phones and is funded partially by the Australia-India Council grant.

The consumers can use their phone cameras to scan the barcode at the back of the food packet and the app will show permissible limits of salt, sugar and fat per 100 grams in the pack. Green colour means that a particular component in the food packet is within the permissible limits and is safe to consume. Amber means it is not the best and there could be healthier alternatives and red indicated that the particular component is high and should be avoided.

In case a component is in red or amber, the app recommends healthier alternatives at the bottom. A special feature added to the Indian version of the app also shows whether a product is vegetarian or not through a green or brown strip on the left.

Senior director Bruce Neal at the George Institute for Global Health developed the app and said that diets rich in salt, sugar and fat are causing major health problems in India and the app will help people understand the complicated nutritional charts at the back of the food packets.

The FoodSwitch app is operational in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and has seen 6,00,000 downloads. It will be launched in China soon.

In Australia, the app developers worked closely with the government food regulatory body, the same practice was not followed in India. The app depends on the information provided by the food company on the packet. As of now, there is no way to check whether that information is authentic or not, added Neal.

The app developers, however, feel that this is a humble beginning and the information provided to consumers will help food industry improve their products. “There was no effort made to get in touch with the food industry but when the companies found out that we are developing the FoodSwitch app, they approached us themselves and asked us how they can improve their products,” said Neal.

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