Encouraging healthier food choices

Nutrition and health: Encouraging healthier food choices

By Sarah Kuczora - 8 April 2014

It is well–known that lifestyle–related non–communicable diseases are now the leading cause of death globally. Diet is an important modifiable risk factor that is linked to a range of these diseases, including type II diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and musculoskeletal disorders.

Due to the links between diet and disease, the food industry has been identified as a body that can make a significant contribution to improving public health. In the UK, the government is leading the Public Health Responsibility Deal, which encourages food manufacturers to sign up to pledges that include total calorie, fat and salt reduction.

We are supporting the food industry in its efforts to reformulate and develop healthier products. Current work includes investigating what is technically possible in fat, sugar and calorie reduction, assessing the impact of product reformulation on microbiological stability, and gaining understanding of consumer perception of health messages. In the UK, industry efforts have significantly impacted public health; for example, we are now leading the world in reducing national average levels of salt consumption.

Despite this, our nation still faces the challenge of encouraging consumers to regularly purchase healthier options. This can be tackled in part through industry innovation via improvement of the quality and image of healthy foods, use of consumer research to understand and target drivers to purchase and provision of nutritional information. However, a huge challenge remains in getting people truly motivated to change their health–related behaviour before problems propagate into life–threatening and expensive diseases.

In an EU FP7–funded project we are involved in the development of a preventive care system (PRECIOUS) that aims to monitor health indicators (including food intake) and encourage behavioural change through personalised feedback, and motivational techniques, such as the use of gamification (game playing scenarios) and motivational interview principles. Development of a food intake sensor will focus on the user requirements of such a tool, and education of the user to improve the nutritional profile of their diet.

For details on PRECIOUS please visit the project webpage.

Another example of our involvement with EU–funded healthy choice product reformulation is the SALUX project, which aims to assist the food industry to make healthy food options available and affordable for consumers across the EU.

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