The Health Perception Lab (HPL) is a laboratory for health-relevant sensory research. The prime focus is on examining beneficial foodstuffs by means of hedonic sensory analysis using standardised sensory cabins as well as modern digital technology, including 3D face reading and eye tracking.
Sensory analysis evaluates product properties using the senses; sensory research into foodstuffs relies chiefly on the senses of taste and smell. The Health Perception Lab (HPL) at FH JOANNEUM is a laboratory for health-relevant sensory research. It differs from conventional sensory laboratories in three aspects:
Content: the Health Perception Lab focuses on examining healthy and beneficial foodstuffs.
Method: In contrast to laboratories for sensory analysis in which trained testers evaluate products, the HPL uses hedonic sensory analysis in which products are assessed by untrained testers of all ages. This is an important precondition for research into children’s sensory responses.
Technique: The HPL is equipped not only with standardised sensory cabins, but also with multi-sensory spaces in which digital technology including face reading and eye tracking are deployed. This enables products to be tested for their appearance and the impression they create.
In addition, measuring equipment for bioelectrical impedance analysis and dosimetry are used for the simple evaluation of body composition in people of all ages. The body composition of babies can also be measured using the so-called “peapod”.
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Research focuses on obesity, product development and awareness raising
In terms of content, a key research focus at the Health Perception Lab is the rise of obesity (adiposity) in children and young people. During its start-up period up to 2018, the HPL will be working on topics including:
Research into antenatal and post-natal indicators for obesity in childhood. A clinical study is addressing the question of how eating habits in pregnancy affect the development of the infant’s sense of taste in the
womb, and the extent to which these factors may contribute to the onset of childhood obesity.
Development of healthy products designed to meet specific dietary requirements for children and infants. Do children prefer eating wholemeal bread if it comes in a particular shape? HPL has developed “star bread” in order to test this hypothesis, baking healthy wholemeal bread which lands on the plate in the shape of a star.
Development of measures to raise awareness amongst target groups, and appropriate training for information multipliers in the health care sector. The “Zebra goes shopping” computer game for children was developed at the HPL in order to raise awareness of the importance of healthy eating, even while out shopping for food. Kindergarten staff were provided with instruction materials underlining the importance of a balanced diet for preschool children.
The Health Perception Lab follows an interdisciplinary approach combining the topics of nutrition, sensor technology, public health and engineering with the participation of several FH JOANNEUM institutes and degree programmes.
The symbol of the zebra
The Health Perception Lab mascot is a zebra. The zebra character appears in games, on information cards and other materials, and was designed by graphic designer Carina Hinterberger, a graduate of the Dietetics and Nutrition programme. The zebra’s stripes aren’t used as camouflage in the savannah, but instead represent the barcodes used on food packaging. The zebra’s orange stripe symbolises the Department of Health Studies at FH JOANNEUM where the HPL is based. The child-oriented use of the zebra indicates HPL’s research focus on children and young people.
The two zebra soft toys which enjoy pride of place at HPL are accidental finds, appearing from behind an old sofa removed from a room into which the HPL was locating. This discovery made it absolutely clear that HPL’s symbol should be the zebra.