A new approach to help young adults in rural areas boost their veg intake for better health 

A personalised dietary intervention could hold the key to increasing the vegetable intake of young adults in rural communities – and protect them against future heart disease risk.

Adults in rural communities are 1.3 times more likely to die early and 1.5 times more likely to experience higher rates of heart disease than their urban counterparts.

Low vegetable intake is a key contributor to the heart disease crisis facing rural Australians. With just 3 per cent of young adults aged 18-35 years who live in rural areas eating the recommended five serves of vegetables daily, Dr Katherine Livingstone is focused on supporting them to increase their vegetable intake.

“Left unaddressed, low vegetable intake in young adults will track into later life, radically impacting their own health, the health of their children and perpetuating the rural health crisis into future generations,” she said.

“If every Australian ate an additional half cup of vegetables per day, health expenditure would reduce by $100 million per year – underlining the importance of this issue.”

With the support of a Heart Foundation Vanguard grant, Dr Livingstone will trial Veg4Me, a digital intervention that can be personalised to participants’ local food environment and individual preferences. Veg4Me is underpinned by established behaviour change techniques including goal setting and action planning.

“Our research shows greater improvement in diet when advice is personalised, compared to generalised advice,” Dr Livingstone said.

Dr Livingstone developed Veg4Me together with young adults, local governments and the Heart Foundation.

“Involving young people in the design of this digital interventions helps to ensure its usability for the intended audience. In a recent review, we found that there are currently no interventions targeting vegetable intake that have been designed to meet the needs of young Australians living in rural areas,” she said.

“As long as you can access the internet, you can access Veg4Me – which helps overcome some of the barriers people in rural areas face in accessing support to change their eating behaviours.”

The trial involve 150 young adults from two Victorian local government regions. Over 12 weeks, participants will be provided access to Veg4Me and divided into two groups. The intervention group will get access to personalised content and behaviour change support via Veg4Me and the control group will get access to non-personalised content.

Dr Livingstone will the findings to determine if Veg4Me is a feasible, accessible and scalable dietary solution to improve diet and heart health disparities experienced by rural communities.

Watch Katherine talk about her Heart Foundation research project  

Recruiting for study participants outside a supermarket in the regional town of Colac, Victoria.