A Smartphone Intervention to Promote a Sustainable Healthy Diet: Protocol for a Pilot Study

JMIR Res Protoc. 2023 Mar 2;12:e41443. doi: 10.2196/41443.


Background: Changing current dietary patterns into sustainable healthy diets (ie, healthy diets with low environmental impact and socioeconomic fairness) is urgent. So far, few eating behavior change interventions have addressed all the dimensions of sustainable healthy diets at once and used cutting-edge methods from the field of digital health behavior change.

Objective: The primary objectives of this pilot study were to assess the feasibility and effectiveness of an individual behavior change intervention toward the adoption of a more environmentally sustainable healthy diet as a whole and changes in specific relevant food groups, food waste, and obtaining food from fair sources. The secondary objectives included the identification of mechanisms of action that potentially mediate the effect of the intervention on behaviors, identification of potential spillover effects and covariations among different food outcomes, and identification of the role of socioeconomic status in behavior changes.

Methods: We will run a series of ABA n-of-1 trials over a year, with the first A phase corresponding to a 2-week baseline evaluation, the B phase to a 22-week intervention, and the second A phase to a 24-week postintervention follow-up. We plan to enroll 21 participants from low, middle, and high socioeconomic statuses, with 7 from each socioeconomic group. The intervention will involve sending text messages and providing brief individualized web-based feedback sessions based on regular app-based assessments of eating behavior. The text messages will contain brief educational messages on human health and the environmental and socioeconomic effects of dietary choices; motivational messages to encourage the adoption of sustainable healthy diets by participants, providing tips to achieve their own behavioral goals; or links to recipes. Both quantitative and qualitative data will be collected. Quantitative data (eg, on eating behaviors and motivation) will be collected through self-reported questionnaires on several weekly bursts spread through the study. Qualitative data will be collected through 3 individual semistructured interviews before the intervention period, at the end of the intervention period, and at the end of the study. Analyses will be performed at both the individual and group levels depending on the outcome and objective.

Results: The first participants were recruited in October 2022. The final results are expected by October 2023.

Conclusions: The results of this pilot study will be useful for designing future larger interventions on individual behavior change for sustainable healthy diets.

International registered report identifier (irrid): PRR1-10.2196/41443.

Keywords: dietary sustainability; eHealth; eating behavior change; eating behavior change protocol; mHealth; mobile health; mobile phone; n-of-1; nutritional education; sustainable diet.