Perspectives from consumers and allied health professionals

The client and/or collaborators

The University of South Australia and Flinders University.

The context

Meal replacements, such as weight loss shakes, are recommended and used in clinical practice for the management of overweight and obesity. However, these types of products are generally regarded as an intensive intervention that is starkly different to our normal meal patterns.

The question

What are consumers’ and dietitians’ beliefs, perceptions, attitudes and experiences with meal replacements compared to traditional meals?

The approach

We used a Meal Dimensions Framework (developed by Bisogni et al.) as the foundation for the study. This framework is based on more than 1400 eating and drinking moments and describes the key factors that shape our food and drink experiences. The Meal Dimensions Framework was used to design in-depth interviews with 22 female users and non-users of meal replacements. We also surveyed 85 dietitians on the topic.

The outcome

The social factor was a strong theme emerging from the research: meal replacements were generally seen as socially unacceptable meals. Some consumers even felt isolated from friends, colleagues or family while using them. The food factor was obvious: consumers are also missing out on the variety and flavours that traditional meals offer in daily life. Both consumers and dietitians considered meal replacements as a short-term kick-start solution for weight loss, ultimately with lifestyle changes more desirable.