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'Good tucker, long life': Hopes app will turn Indigenous eating habits around

A girl holds up an app on an ipad showing a thumbs up.
By scanning a barcode with the app, it can tell you if a product is good, bad or okay in moderation.

ABC News: Lucy Marks

In a fresh take on health education, advocates and researchers are hoping a new smartphone app will help people in remote Indigenous communities turn their food habits around.

The Good Tucker app is designed to put free, instant and easy advice in the palm of your hand, moving away from conventional forms of healthy food campaigning.

It works by scanning the barcode of a product or photographing a piece of fruit, then, using information derived from the five-star food rating system, it tells a user if the food is good, bad, or okay in moderation.

The drivers behind the app say the idea has been years in the making, with the aim of reducing chronic health issues later in life, by fostering healthy food choices early on.

"It was set up for kids in remote communities, that's what we first thought this app would be for, but its actually gone much wider, it's something everyone can use," Graham 'Buzz' Bidstrup, chief executive of Uncle Jimmy's Thumbs Up said.

"Our mantra is 'good tucker, long life', so I'm hoping people start adopting healthy eating practices and particularly the sugar drinks."

While the app is designed for all ages, it is being promoted among children with the hope the uptake of technology will be more successful.

Actor Rob Collins was at the launch in Darwin in support of the app.

"Fundamental change with regards to healthy living and healthy food choices, you have to start with children," he said.

"And we're a very interactive, tech-savvy mob so it just makes a lot of sense, and this app can help us make better decisions about healthier food and being good to ourselves."

Rob Collins with several children using an app to scan barcodes on various food products.
Territory-born actor Rob Collins was at the launch to support the app.

ABC News: Lucy Marks

One researcher behind the app, Tom Wycherley from the University of South Australia, was confident enough people in remote areas would have access to the technology for it to be successful.

"We're getting a huge uptake in both the availability of networks and the use of smartphones," Mr Wycherley said.

"Most people now even in remote communities have some sort of smartphone; you can get a smartphone for less than $200 that will be effective in working the app."

The nutrition specialist said there had been a move away from conventional forms of health education, and rather fast and user-friendly tools were most effective with younger generations.

"Technology is at hand for most people these days in the form of a smartphone, so it's very accessible to have the information at hand and be able to look it up when you're in the store, when you need that advice," Mr Wycherley said.

"You don't have to go searching for posters, you don't have to wait hear the information on another traditional form of media to access that information."

It is hoped shop owners may take up the idea, and provide an in-store tablet for use of the app for those people who do not have a smartphone.

The Good Tucker App is being rolled out across the nation, and researchers plan to monitor its success in the coming months.

The app was designed in partnership between Menzies School of Health Research, the University of South Australia and the Jimmy Little Foundation's 'Uncle Jimmy's Thumbs Up'.