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Ara students help diabetes patients make healthy choices

When Diabetes Christchurch needed an app to help their clients make healthier nutritional choices, they looked to Ara students for help.

Computing and Human Nutrition tutors were receptive; they saw a chance for students to work collaboratively on an interesting project that could make a difference to people in the community.

“The goal of this project was to develop something to improve healthy food choices for New Zealand diabetics, since diabetes is one of the fastest growing health issues in New Zealand and eating healthy foods could be helpful to manage Type 2 diabetes,” Computing tutor Dr Luofeng Xu said.

Loufeng and fellow computing tutor Dr Bernard Otinpong found three “brilliant” computing students to develop an app, and they worked with two Applied Science nutrition students.

“What we loved about the project is that it is providing something relevant to society and that is what Ara is all about, providing opportunities for our students to develop real word skills and contribute to industry and community as well,” Bernard said.

MyShoppingBuddy rates a list of foods as green, yellow or red, where green foods can be eaten most of and red foods least of. It also provides nutritional information including energy, protein, fat, sugars, sodium and fibre per 100g and helps users to create a shopping basket of selected foods.

MyShoppingBuddy took almost a year to create and was recently released to the public. It is available for free on Google Play for Android.

“Developing an app takes a lot of skill, depending on where you are starting from,” Bernard said. “First you have to gather the requirements and then create something that will stand out from the thousands of apps available. It is challenging and it can go wrong – you have to be in constant contact with the client to fulfil the purpose and create a good user experience.

“You can use computing to do just about anything. People can lose leaflets, but an app is always there on your mobile phone.”

Along with the practical experience, projects such as MyShoppingBuddy can open students’ eyes to new career possibilities. “In this project, students need to engage with a real world client, which gives students a chance to practise their real world skills in a professional context,” Luofeng said. “Besides, through doing this project, students can also recognize what kind of opportunities exist in the real world, which will be very helpful when they pursue their careers after graduating from Ara.”

Nutrition student Tania Vincent initiated the project. She contacted Diabetes Christchurch looking for a placement for her second year of the Bachelor of Applied Science (Human Nutrition).

Diabetes Christchurch Manager Lynne Taylor was interested. “Lynne and Marilyn (Cullens, dietician) had identified a need for a small, convenient shopping guide that clients could take into the supermarket, to help them select foods that complied with Diabetes healthy eating guidelines.”

By mid 2016 Tania had created the “Smart Shopping Guide - pocket edition”. Lynne and Marilyn wondered if this could be developed into an app.

“It has been awesome to be involved in a project that has such practical applications, both through the paper guide and the app,” Tania said. “I have had feedback from people that the paper guide has been very useful, and they enjoy using it, and I have no doubt that the app will be the same.”

That initial phonecall led to two work placements for Tania and three for computing students. Another student, Danmiao Chen, has translated the booklet and app into Chinese. There are plans to release it in other languages in the future too.

MyShoppingBuddy was designed specifically for Diabetes Christchurch clients, to be used in conjunction with a plan from a medical practitioner or dietician. However, it is freely available to anyone interested in improving their food choices. So far it has been downloaded in the US and in NZ.

The students were:

• Tanya Vincent (developed nutritional information into a pocket guide)

• Norman Saruchera and Felsi Judith (developed the prototypes)

• Quentin Barry (developed the app)

• Danmiao Chen (translated the nutritional information to Chinese)


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