Digital Technology in Nutrition Education and Behavior Change: Opportunities and Challenges | Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB)

Digital Technology in Nutrition Education and Behavior Change: Opportunities and Challenges

Posted by: on Saturday June 17, 2023

JNEB Editorial – June issue

The incorporation of digital technol­ogy (digitech) within nutrition education and behavior change in­terventions (NEBI) has markedly increased, and COVID-19 rapidly accelerated advancement and acceptability in this area.1 The pro­liferation of digitech, including de­vices and platforms, creates novel ways for end-users to engage with NEBI and presents unique opportu­nities for increasing reach and engagement of underrepresented populations.2-5 While a “digital di­vide” exists with some digitech, like desktop/laptop ownership and home broadband internet access, most people own smart phones (= 76%) or use social media (= 65%), regardless ofncome, race and eth­nicity, or age.6-8 Furthermore, digi­tech can resolve common barriers to NEBI participation (e.g., lack of transportation or time) and can increase NEBI scalability.9 Prior to developing or adapting NEBI that incorporate digitech, it is important to consider challenges that might impact their effectiveness and approaches that enhance equitable access.
Digitech-specifc, evidence-based frameworks are critical for developing effective NEBI. In user-centered design, for example, end users’ needs and preferences are prioritized and used to guide design processes, 10 lead­ing to improved participant engage­ment and an increased likelihood of an effective intervention.11 Research­ers may also consider implementation process models to guide development and optimize sustained digitech utili­zation. For example, the Exploration, Adoption/Preparation, Implementa­tion, Sustainment (EPIS) model helps identify whether NEBI-related digi­tech is feasible, adoptable, and rele­vant to the intended population.12 Classic theories, like diffusion of inno­vation, can also be applied to under­stand how digitech innovations are adopted. Also, engagement strategies like reminders, coaching, and person­alized information13 are important considerations in NEBI digitech. Digi­tal inequities, such as inconsistent internet access or low digital literacy, disproportionately burden the same populations burdened by diet-related disease inequities. Employing user-centered design and leveraging digi­tech already adopted by the intended audience (e.g., among Hispanics, 80% use social media and 85% own smartphones)6,8 could help reach populations most at risk of diet-related diseases.
Another key challenge is the fnancial cost of developing and maintaining digitech. For example, a mobile application with simple fea­tures can cost $16,000 to $32,000, not including maintenance and up­dates.14 This is coupled with the competition, money, and fast pace of digitech in industry that is often mis­aligned with the scrutinous, slow pace of research. Rigorous digitech­focused funding mechanisms could help support the development and maintenance of innovations. How­ever, continued funding for mainte­nance and updates may require further testing or expansion of digi­tech, as part of additional research proposals. Another strategy is leveraging industry’s fnancial assets and audience reach through collabo­rative projects that navigate and con­sider the often-divergent interests of research and industry.
Ultimately, digitech holds great promise for enhancing NEBI reach and effectiveness, especially to address disparities, and warrants con­tinued investigation by nutrition ed­ucators and researchers. The Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB) DigiTech Division is well-positioned to lead this charge through educating and connecting SNEB members with NEBI digitech experts and resources.15 Digitech NEBI can effectively meet the specifc needs and preferences of the in­tended audience, while achieving desired outcomes in nutrition educa­tion and behavior change.

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