Researchers are offering to pay about three-quarters of the cost of food eaten by 200 households for 12 weeks, as part of a project to develop a “wellbeing diet” that people will stick to.
But rising costs are adding to the challenge of providing healthy food options.
University of Otago in Wellington endocrinologist Professor Jeremy Krebs, who is involved in the $4 million project, said cost could be a barrier to some families eating healthier meals.
“The cost of fresh fruit and vegetables now is probably the highest I’ve ever seen it,” Krebs said.
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“Probably the reality for all of us is if you want to eat a healthy diet it is a bit more expensive.”
But it was also not cheap to eat several takeaway meals a week, which some families might be doing.
There were also ways to keep costs down, such as eating produce in season and buying healthy substitutes, such as frozen vegetables. Smaller portions and moving away from meat-driven meals to a more plant-based diet could also help.
The project was launched on Monday, and research teams associated with the universities of Otago and Auckland are now looking to recruit 200 participants in Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, and through Kōkiri Marae in Lower Hutt.
Those 200 index participants need to be aged 18-70, and have high cholesterol, blood pressure and/or be overweight.
For the project, they will have to follow a healthy eating plan, and agree to several health checks spread out over a year.
“We’re recruiting 200 index people who are at risk of diabetes or heart disease, but what we’re really interested in doing is providing food and training to support a whole family,” Krebs said.
As many family members as possible were wanted for the research.
“There’s a whole lot of support around that to help them learn how to prepare those meals and perhaps be exposed to different foods they might not have tried before, or in different ways.”
Anyone who met the criteria could be considered for involvement in the project, but researchers particularly wanted to include Māori and Pacific households in the study, Krebs said.
“Māori and Pacific are particularly overrepresented in some health statistics. We want to find ways to improve their wellbeing and health.”
The aim of the project is to develop a “uniquely Aotearoa New Zealand wellbeing diet”, He Rourou Whai Painga (HRWP), that researchers hope will tackle diabetes, heart and other noncommunicable diseases.
To find out about participation in the project, being carried out in collaboration with partners in the food and beverage industry, go to the HRWP website.
Participants will be provided with targeted nutrition support, including guidance on food preparation, recipe ideas and social media groups to connect with other study participants in their community.
The project is part of the High-Value Nutrition Science Challenge, which is based at the University of Auckland’s Liggins Institute.
The food and beverages provided would be predominantly from New Zealand. Families taking part would be provided with food boxes and recipes, Krebs said.
“There will be some fresh fruit and vegetables and seafood and some lean meat, and there will also be things like olive oil and staples like that.”
All the food involved had to meet dietary prescriptions.
Fa’aosofia Daly and her husband used to get takeaways twice a week, and spent most of their grocery budget on meat. But after taking part in a cooking programme accessible through her GP, the couple are eating healthy and saving money..
A key part of the study was finding whether people would stick to the recommended diet after the food was no longer being provided, Krebs said.
“If you’ve ever tried to change your diet … it’s pretty hard to stick to it.
“What we’re doing – it’s a whanau-based intervention – is helping whole families change, and providing them with support to make those changes,” he said.
“Then we’re going to be watching for another six months after the intervention to see how well they’re able to maintain that in the long term.”
Hopefully the whanau approach would help people in the study from drifting back to old eating habits.
“If you can get the whole household over the line, enjoying and starting to eat these foods, then hopefully you can embed that as the way the family eats going forward.”