Apps of the future: Helping cut salt in your supermarket shop

Katherine Woods hears how BHF researchers are developing a smartphone app to help us choose healthier lower-salt products in supermarkets.  

Woman using phone to check nutritional content on a jar in the supermarket

The mobile app in action in a supermarket.

Sarah Payne Riches is part of a team developing a smartphone app that she describes as like “having a nutritionist in your back pocket”.

“Most people eat too much salt,” she explains, “which increases their risk of high blood pressure and consequently their risk of heart and circulatory diseases [such as heart attack and stroke].”

At the University of Oxford, Ms Payne Riches is a Clinical Research Fellow on a BHF project, led by Professor Susan Jebb, to help people to reduce their salt intake.

“Around 75 per cent of the salt we consume is added to our food before we buy it, so we want to support people to choose lower-salt products when they are grocery shopping,” she says.

The app allows people to use their phone’s camera to scan the barcodes of products they are looking at, or they can search for the product by name.

Around 75 per cent of the salt we consume is added to our food before we buy it

Ms Payne Riches

The app then displays how much salt the product contains and recommends lower-salt alternatives based on which supermarket they are in. And, if you choose to buy the lower-salt products, you can record the swap in the app and it will tell you how much salt you’ve saved in total.

The researchers are currently running a study with a small group of 40 people to test whether the app, combined with a short advice session with a healthcare professional, helps people to reduce their salt intake over eight weeks.

The researchers will also go shopping with people taking part in the study to find out how they use the app and what they do and don’t like about it. Next, they will develop the app further and test its effect on blood pressure with a larger group.

“If we can show that the app improves people’s health, we will make it widely available for anyone to use,” explains Ms Payne Riches. 

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