A Behaviorally Informed Mobile App to Improve the Nutritional Quality of Grocery Shopping (SwapSHOP): Feasibility Randomized Controlled Trial

Carmen Piernas, Charlotte Lee, Alice Hobson, Georgina Harmer, Sarah Payne Riches, Michaela Noreik, Susan A Jebb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Interventions targeting the nutritional quality of grocery shopping have the potential to help improve diet and health outcomes.

This study aims to assess the feasibility and acceptability of receiving advice on healthier food purchases through SwapSHOP, a behaviorally informed smartphone app that allows users to scan barcodes of grocery products from the United Kingdom, providing nutritional information and personalized swap suggestions to encourage healthier purchases.

We randomized adult volunteers in a 6-arm parallel-group controlled feasibility trial. Participants used the SwapSHOP app to record their grocery shopping during a 2-week run-in period and were individually randomized in a 3:1 ratio to either intervention or control arms within 3 strata related to a nutrient of concern of their choice: saturated fat (SFA), sugar, or salt. Participants randomized to the intervention received the SwapSHOP app with a healthier swap function, goal setting, and personalized feedback. Participants in the control group were instructed to use a simpler version of the app to log all their food purchases without receiving any guidance or advice. The primary outcome was the feasibility of progression to a full trial, including app use and follow-up rates at 6 weeks. The secondary outcomes included other feasibility outcomes, process and qualitative measures, and exploratory effectiveness outcomes to assess changes in the nutrient content of the purchased foods.

A total of 112 participants were randomized into 3 groups: SFA (n=38 intervention and n=13 control), sugar (n=40 intervention and n=15 control), and salt (n=5 intervention and n=1 control, not analyzed). The 2 progression criteria were met for SFA and sugar: 81% (30/37) and 87% (34/39) of intervention participants in the SFA and sugar groups, respectively, used the app to obtain healthier swaps, and 89% (68/76) of intervention participants and 96% (23/24) of control participants completed follow-up by scanning all purchases over the follow-up period. The process and qualitative outcomes suggested that the intervention was acceptable and has the potential to influence shopping behaviors. There were reductions of −0.56 g per 100 g (95% CI −1.02 to −0.19) in SFA and −1 g per 100 g (95% CI −1.97 to −0.03) in total sugars across all food purchases in the intervention groups.

People were willing to use the SwapSHOP app to help reduce sugar and SFA (but not salt) in their grocery shopping. Adherence and follow-up rates suggest that a full trial is feasible. Given the suggestive evidence indicating that the intervention resulted in reductions in sugars and SFA, a definitive trial is necessary to target improvements in health outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere45854
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 Carmen Piernas.


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