Can you give a short explanation of what this quiz is and the idea behind it?
The Australian Healthy Eating Quiz is set of questions that ask you how often you eat a range of healthy foods. Based on your answers, this information is converted into a total score. Your score is an indictor of how healthy your usual food habits, in comparison to others who also do the quiz. You can print off you results and feedback report or you can email them to yourself.
The feedback report also gives you information about the 8 food group sections that make up the score. The best part is that you are given ideas on how to improve your score for each of these components.
We want people to try out the suggestions then come back and do the quiz again in a month or two and check out what difference they have been able to make to their Healthy Eating score.
If you already eat really healthy foods regularly, they you will still get feedback on ways to challenge yourself to get an even higher score in the future.
When did you decide to undertake this study and how much time/work has been involved in getting it to this point?
I first started working on developing a short questionnaire to assess how healthy a person‘s usual eating habits were back in 2003.
There have been some short questionnaires used around the world and I wanted to adapt one to Australia. I did a review of these questionnaires and found that people who score poorly on them are more likely to develop heart disease and other medical conditions, including some cancers. What was scarier was that they were more likely to die at a younger age, especially the men.
Coming up with a short questionnaire that can provide feedback about your eating habits, well before these medical conditions occur, and giving feedback to Australians on how to eat better and lower their disease risk, has been my mission since then.
Most methods of assessing usual food habits are very complex. They take a lot of time for people to complete and then a lot of time for dietitians or researchers to analyse and then even more time to generate the results and get them back to you.
How difficult was deciding the exact format of the quiz for maximum effectiveness?
We have been developing a user friendly online version of the quiz over the last year. The challenge has been to make it short and easy to fill in and to provide useful feedback. We have been trialling it here at the University of Newcastle and have made improvements to the Healthy Eating Quiz and believe it is now ready for Australians to use.
What were the biggest challenges in deciding which questions to include?
This was the easy part because the questions are derived from a much longer survey called a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ). We have shown that the short subset of questions that we have used in the Healthy Eating Quiz give a good approximation of your usual intake of protein, fat carbohydrate, fibre and vitamins and minerals, compared to using the long FFQ that has over 120 questions and that takes much longer to fill in.
We know that people who score in the highest category of the Healthy Eating quiz, have much lower intakes of fat and higher intakes of fibre and vitamins like the B vitamins (thiamine, niacin and riboflavin) and vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and minerals like calcium, iron and zinc. This also means that they are at a lower risk of developing conditions like heart disease.
Which other people have been instrumental in bringing this project to fruition?
My colleague Dr Jane Watson worked on developing the original FFQ when she was my PhD student. Since then we have worked with Dr Maya Guest and a research team including Skye Huxley, Kristine Pezdirc, Kerith Duncanson, Hannah Lucas and Dr Tracy Burrows to develop an adult version and to derive the brief versions that we have called the Healthy Eating Quiz.
We have had further assistance with the analysis from Dr May Boggess, a statistician from Texas A&M University. The team at Newcastle Innovation, the University of Newcastle's commercial arm, provided great support in the design and implementation of the website.
Quizzes that ask you to divulge your diet sometimes scare people off – what’s different about this quiz that might help put some people’s minds at rest?
The great thing about the Healthy Eating Quiz is that it only asks about healthy foods. It does not ask you about unhealthy foods and drinks, or alcohol. This is for a good reason. Research shows that people who eat a bigger variety of healthy foods more regularly, live longer and are less likely to develop a range of medical conditions, including heart disease and some cancers.
We have decided to focus on helping people to eat a bigger range of healthy foods more often. The good news is that when you do this, you automatically end up eating less of those unhealthy things, without you feeling like you are being deprived.
How do you intend to use the results from this quiz?
We are collecting all the information from the online Healthy Eating Quiz for everyone who ticks the box letting us use their information. Later this year we will be able to share with you who the healthiest eaters in Australia are. Whether it will be the kids or adults, men or women, younger or older people.
We will put these results on the webpage. We will also use the information to develop some more fact sheets specifically for the group of Australian with the lowest scores. We will target this new information to the areas of the quiz where scores are the lowest and come up with ways that help to make it less hard for people to improve their eating habits.
Do you have an expectation of what the results might be?
I do, but I am not going to tell you. Come back later in the year and check the results section. All I will say for now is – go the girls!
Do you have data to compare these results to?
We have some baseline data from our research and studies done internationally that we can compare with. But, we hope to collect the results for what could be the biggest survey ever done of Australian eating habits. So send the link to the Healthy Eating Quiz to all your friends and family and come back again to find out who the healthiest eaters in Australia are.
How long will the quiz be open for? What time period are you using to collect the info?
The quiz will stay open till later this year to give people a chance to fill it in, use the feedback they get to improve some aspects of their eating habits, and then to come back and repeat the quiz.
You encourage people to come back and do the quiz after they have made some changes – what difference in results would you expect or hope to see?
We hope to see that people returning to do the quiz for a second or third time and getting much higher scores.