Policies for a healthier European diet: are they effective?
Policies for a healthier European diet: are they effective?
Madrid 26 October 2011
EATWELL (Interventions to Promote Healthy Eating Habits: Evaluation and Recommendations) is an EU (FP7) funded project that aims to help tackle one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century; unhealthy diets. European Union Member States have initiated various national policy campaigns to encourage physical activity and healthier diets. Ensuring the success of such interventions requires systematic evaluation of their impact to find out what works and what doesn’t. The EATWELL project was devised to identify the successes, failures and uncertainties of these campaigns and use the results to provide advice for policy makers on creating more successful healthy eating policy interventions.
At the 11th FENS European Nutrition Conference in Madrid on Thursday 27 October 2011, partners in the EATWELL project announced their recent results.
Professor Bruce Traill of the University of Reading, coordinator of the project, explained that “EATWELL will recommend appropriate interventions for Member States and the EU based on information gained from evaluations of policy interventions and their acceptability to stakeholders, as well as lessons taken from the private sector.”
EATWELL’s international team of researchers reviewed healthy eating policy actions, interviewed policy makers and industry, and surveyed European citizens as well as undertook fresh analysis of data. The work has led to the identification of over 100 policy interventions in Europe. Two broad categories of intervention were identified; those aimed at supporting more informed choice by providing information or education, such as the UK 5-a-day information campaign or nutrition labelling, and those seeking to change the market environment by changing prices or food availability, such as imposing taxes on foods high in saturated fat or providing vouchers for disadvantaged consumers.
EATWELL found a tendency towards information and education actions which are less controversial compared to market-level interventions. Until recently, policy actions, other than information campaigns, were confined to a few cases in Scandinavian countries and the UK, with France as a newcomer. The Mediterranean countries and transition economies have only a recent history of policy action and mostly confined to information and education measures.
Some policies were found to be almost absent in Europe, such as nutrition information on menus, fiscal measures and nutrition-related food standards. Current evidence suggests that information and education measures show limited success. Attitudes and knowledge have been enhanced but behaviour has been slow to follow. Fiscal measures, such as fat taxes, are only starting to be implemented in Europe, but the body of evidence collected outside Europe suggests they elicit small behavioural responses, but large tax revenues. Reformulation, mandatory or through public/private collaborative voluntary action, has reduced intakes of trans-fats and salt, though levels of the latter remain too high. Healthy eating vouchers to the poor are effective but expensive for tax payers.
Despite having a generally small impact on diets, the value of lives and disability saved by interventions can be substantial. According to EATWELL scientist, Professor Shankar, however, “when impacts on the public’s behaviour or consumption are actually realised, healthy-eating policies are often highly cost-effective interventions”.
A crucial part of the EATWELL project was to assess the acceptability of policies for different population sub-groups (such as, parents vs. non-parents, education level) as public acceptance is crucial for the success of public health interventions. To read more about these finding click here.
Another aspect of the project was to consider the lessons that can be learnt from the private sector which employs various marketing tools seeking to influence consumer food choice. Key success factors were identified from recent commercial food marketing cases that could be transferred to the public sector, including trend awareness, endorsement and media coverage. These success factors could all be beneficially applied to public sector marketing, with a focus on those that are low cost. Building trust in public policy institutions and activities is crucial for long term success, as is consistency and cooperative efforts. Coupling public information and social marketing campaigns with structural changes was also considered an important factor for long term success.
Podcasts explaining the work of the EATWELL project can be found here. (http://www.eufic.org/page/en/page/MEDIACENTRE/)
EATWELL is an EU FP7 funded project running from April 2009 to September 2012. The EATWELL consortium is composed of teams from the University of Reading, University of London (SOAS), Aarhus Universitet, Universiteit Gent, Alma Mater Studiorum-Universita Di Bologna, The National Institute of Research on Food and Nutrition of Italy, Jagiellonian University Medical College, Kraft Foods R&D and the European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA). The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) is responsible for communicating the results of the project. Coordinating the project is Professor Bruce Traill of the University of Reading, UK. For more information about the project see www.eatwellproject.eu
The 11th FENS European Nutrition Conference, between 26 -29 October 2011, in Madrid, hosts an international gathering of nutrition experts where, under the slogan “Diversity versus Globalization: A Nutritional Challenge for a Changing Europe”, they seek to analyse the nutritional and lifestyle problems of the entire resident population in Europe. For more information about the 11th FENS European Nutrition Conference visit http://www.fensmadrid2011.com/.
See also associated press release, 26 October, on EATWELL survey results of European publics' acceptance of policies that may impact on healthier eating also presented at the 11th FENS European Nutrition Conference ‘Do Europeans want governments to direct their eating choices?’ (http://eatwellproject.eu/en/Media-centre/Do-Europeans-want-governments-to-direct-their-eati/).
The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013) under Grant Agreement No. 226713, EATWELL project.