However, Nancy Roman added, they also could exacerbate issues, such as unequal access to nutritious options, unless stakeholders are mindful of their development and application.
At PHA’s upcoming Accelerating a Healthier Future Summit in Chicago April 1-2, Roman told FoodNavigator-USA that she hopes to have some “really difficult conversations about what we need to do differently … to take advantage of the upside of innovation” to improve the overall health of Americans through nutrition, and to not repeat the mistakes of the past.
She explained that during the Industrial Revolution and the Post-War period that followed “we took advantage of all the new technology that revolution had to offer to develop exactly what consumers asked for, which was very convenient, delicious food that was shelf stable and could be prepared quickly.
“What we didn’t understand or appreciate fully then was the connection that the sodium and added sugar and ultra-refined grains in those products would come to have on our health.”
Now, however, she noted, “we have the full burden of that knowledge” and we must use it wisely “as we come into another big … societal transformation … that is the Digital Revolution.”
She explained that the Digital Revolution is changing the way we eat and access food, and as before, much of the focus is on increasing convenience.
“Health disparity could widen if technology enables you to get more stuff faster,” she said, noting, for example, “if I am someone who wants yogurt with live cultures and fresh fruit and I can get more of what I want faster and more conveniently, I will get healthier and healthier, and if I am someone who eats bologna on discount and potato chips and technology optimizes me for that, I will get more of that more conveniently. And so, if left unaddressed, without thinking intentionally, the digital revolution could widen health disparities.”
One way that PHA is tackling this is through a pilot with the retailer Giant Foods and an artificial intelligence company from Palo Alto to test how artificial intelligence and behavior economics can nudge and incentivize healthy choices.
“We are pretty excited about that, but at the Summit, I will be making a call to action to people to really be thinking as they embrace new technology about the opportunity that they set out for food,” she said.
Taking a closer look at technology's role in nutrition
In addition, on the first day of the Summit, Nate Androsky, CEO of Creative Science, will take a deep dive into behavior economics and explore the idea of whether people are in control of their decisions.
His workshop will provide a basic understanding of the psychology behind the human decision-making process, including the emotional, social and cognitive mechanisms driving people to take action.
On the second day of the Summit, during a breakout session, a panel of experts will explore how technology can help improve health, while also “unraveling” the secret to scaling a business.