Personalizing Mailed Nutritional Information Improves Diets

Researchers from Brown University have found that mailing personalized nutritional information to diverse ethnic groups with lower income might be an easy and inexpensive way to cut healthcare spending. The program has proven so successful that the researchers are now involving community agencies in the personalized mailing programs that can improve diet and reduce disease risk among low-income families through improved dietary habits.

Lead author Kim Gans, associate professor (research) of community health at Brown University and co-director of Brown’s Institute for Community Health Promotion explains, “It’s a lot less expensive to send (people) material in the mail than to sit down with them and do multiple counseling sessions over time. And people really liked the materials.” Personalized nutritional information sent in the mail in small batches was found to improve vegetable and fruit intake among less educated consumers.

The study involved 1,841 people, mostly in Rhode Island, beginning October 2000 through February 2007. Telephone surveys were conducted to identify personal eating habits, motivations toward better eating, and barriers to healthy eating among families who signed up for the study. More than half of the participants were Latino, and thirteen percent were African American. Annual income was less than $20,000 in fifty six percent of the participants. Phone counselling, followed by personalized nutritional information sent in the mail helped families improve nutrition and reduce fat intake.

The researchers divided the study into three groups to find out which program would be most successful. One group received personalized nutritional information through one mailing. The other two groups were given nutritional information in four separate mailings over a twelve-week period. One of those two groups also received a follow-up surveys to help identify additional needs for nutritional information.

The study shows that mailing personalized nutritional information may help families decrease fat intake and increase fruit and vegetable consumption. Personalized nutritional information, provided through sequential mailings, resulted in the biggest improvements in diet. The program also shows that less educated families benefit the most from receiving nutritional information through the mail.

The program may prove to be an important an inexpensive way for community agencies to promote better health among diverse ethnic and low-income groups, using telephonic nutritional counselors, followed by a series of mailed and personalized nutritional information.