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This article was published on November 3, 2011

Channel 4 crowdsources UK patients online to see whether food can cure ailments

Channel 4 crowdsources UK patients online to see whether food can cure ailments
Paul Sawers
Story by

Paul Sawers

Paul Sawers was a reporter with The Next Web in various roles from May 2011 to November 2014. Follow Paul on Twitter: @psawers or check h Paul Sawers was a reporter with The Next Web in various roles from May 2011 to November 2014. Follow Paul on Twitter: @psawers or check him out on Google+.

Back in May, UK broadcaster Channel 4 announced an interesting new series called The Food Hospital, which sought to examine the science behind using food as medicine. The series started this week.

Through experiments conducted following the latest scientific evidence, patients with a range of medical conditions and symptoms were invited to attend The Food Hospital, where they were prescribed set diets to discover if their health improved.

Taking The Food Hospital online

At the time, the broadcaster said: “Online, The Food Hospital will seek to put science to the test nationwide, as a fully integrated cross-platform project”. And full details of what that will entail have been announced by Channel 4, in what it’s calling “the first television-led online food science trials”.

“The Food Hospital examines the science behind using food as medicine, and online the series is putting this emerging area of medical science to the test nationwide by asking viewers to take part in scientific studies conducted in consultation with a British university and a research institution.”

So whilst patients are being tested on the programme itself, through the use of Facebook, an iPhone app and The Food Hospital website Channel 4 is trying to encourage participation with the wider public, to help medical experts reach a much wider user-base.

The public are being invited to follow Big Food Trials, a ‘group studies’ feature of the series, and eat specific foods to see if they can reduce high blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, cure insomnia and improve memory.

The trials’ will run as follows: Insomnia – 2 weeks; Cholesterol – 4 weeks; Blood Pressure and Memory – 6 weeks. Participants will be asked to consume a specific food-type and answer 5 or more questions each day. They will also be asked to take three cholesterol and blood pressure readings throughout the trials – and how can you do that, you ask? Well, apparently it’s possible to get free blood-pressure tests from most high-street chemists. You can also buy cholesterol self-test kits online.

The trials are being carried out in conjunction with The Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health at the University of Aberdeen, and sleep specialists Sleepio, which is experimenting with new ways of collecting data for its research. Once the data is collated through the series, it will be sent to the universities and the results of the trials will be revealed to viewers during the series.

Does cherry juice cure insomnia?

So what cause/effect relationships exactly will they be looking to assess? Well, does cherry juice or milk improve sleep? Can dark chocolate influence blood pressure? Are almonds capable of altering plasma cholesterol levels? These are just three examples. Dr Baukje de Roos, from The Rowett Institute, says:

“These trials through the online site and Facebook give us a very effective way of gathering information, but also of controlling the compliance of the participating subjects. This provides a great opportunity to create a very large dataset which will allow us to study people in their own environment and hopefully enable us to reveal subtle beneficial effects, if any, which are sometimes more difficult to find in smaller studies.”

Once the series and trials are over, the longer term goal of The Food Hospital is to develop an online resource to help the public understand how their diet can affect illnesses.

The Food Hospital is broadcast every Tuesday, 8pm on Channel 4, and will run for 8 weeks. And meanwhile, why not check out The Future of Health and Fitness by The Next Web’s Courtney Boyd Myers, which looks at how technology is impacting our wellbeing.