07:26am Monday 21 October 2019

Creating a healthier Europe: Recommendations for healthy eating policy interventions

This EU-funded project looked at 111 national-level interventions, and using validated and advanced quantitative evaluation models conducted fresh analysis of secondary data bases. This showed, for example, that the UK Food Standards Agency’s salt campaign in 2004 resulted in a 10% reduction of salt intake on average in the UK population, with young women demonstrating the biggest behaviour changes towards reduced salt intake. The initiative combined an advertising awareness campaign, to inform the public of the health issues of consuming too much salt, and working with the food industry to encourage reformulation to reduce salt in food products.

Similarly, a project analysis of the 5-a-day fruit and vegetables campaign in the UK, which started in 2003 and encouraged the increase in fruit and vegetable consumption through social marketing, found a significant increase in fruit and vegetable intakes between 0.2 and 0.7 portions per day especially in the lower and middle income classes.

“We used secondary data to carry out our own analyses of these initiatives. Continued evaluation of finished, on-going and new interventions is necessary to form an even better picture of the impact of policies on actual eating behaviour”, said project coordinator Professor Bruce Traill of the University of Reading.

Based on the evaluations of the 111 interventions and an online survey of over 3,000 interviews with European citizens, gauging public acceptance of healthy eating interventions, the project has made several proposals to aid in the development of future policies to encourage healthier eating.

Of the analysed policies, 82 support informed choice by providing information or education, such as nutrition labelling and advertising controls. These policies have small but positive effects on healthy eating. They are relatively cheap, generally cost-effective and accepted by the public. For example, incorporating key success factors of commercial marketing into public information campaigns and investing in longer term campaigns could encourage healthier behaviour. “However, it’s also important to take into account here that informed choice does not necessarily equal making a healthier choice; many factors influence what people ultimately choose to eat”, said Traill.

The remaining policies seek to change the market environment and are those which change the choice set facing consumers either by enhancing the availability of healthier foods, restricting the availability of less healthy foods or nutrients, or changing relative prices of food through taxes and subsidies. These measures have the potential to bring about substantial changes in food choices and off-set the social costs of unhealthy diets. Evidence of effectiveness is lacking in many cases owing to the short time span since the introduction of some of the measures, but when evaluated, they were found to be cost effective but with the down side that the public finds them intrusive and are less likely to accept them. “Fiscal interventions to promote healthy eating are highly cost-effective. The precise nature of any tax should be informed by the careful evaluation of recent measures in Denmark, France, Finland and Hungary, whilst the revenues generated should be ring-fenced for use on other cost-effective measures to encourage healthier diets“, said  Professor Traill.

EATWELL researchers conclude by emphasising that the most important recommendation is that more, and better, evidence of the effectiveness of healthy eating policies needs to be collected, and should be considered as an integral part of all policies.

Notes to editor:

For more information about the EATWELL project visit www.eatwellproject.eu, or contact Sofia Kuhn at sofia.kuhn@eufic.org  or 0032486673942.

EATWELL is an EU FP7 part-funded project running from April 2009 to March 2013. The EATWELL consortium is composed of teams from the University of Reading, University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies), Aarhus University, Ghent University, University of Bologna, The National Institute of Research on Food and Nutrition of Italy, Jagiellonian University Medical College, Kraft Foods R&D, European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA)and the European Food Information Council (EUFIC). Coordinating the project is Professor Bruce Traill of the University of Reading, UK. For more information about the project see www.eatwellproject.eu.

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.

The full report on healthy eating policy recommendations can be downloaded from www.eatwellproject.eu.

Researcher biographies

Professor Bruce Traill, University of Reading, United Kingdom
Bruce Traill is professor of Food Economics at the University of Reading. He has worked for the European Commission and been a consultant to FAO, WHO and OECD. He is presently Chairman of the Board of Rural Business Research (RBR), is a member of the Food Standards Agency Academic Economists Panel and a member of the UK Government’s Council of Food Policy Advisors.

Bruce has published widely on issues concerning, international trade and competitiveness, food safety economics, obesity, and consumer food choice. He is co-author of a recent book published by Oxford University Press titled Fat Economics: Nutrition, Health and Economic Policy. 

Professor Wim Verbeke, Ghent University, Belgium
Wim Verbeke is professor in agro-food marketing and consumer behaviour at the Department of Agricultural Economics, Ghent University in Belgium.

Wim’s research interests comprise citizen and consumer attitudes, perceptions and acceptance of agricultural and food production technologies and products. Specific interests are on the impact of information, food labelling and the role of personal characteristics and individual difference variables on food choice. He is a partner in several Sixth and Seventh Framework research projects funded by the European Union. He has co-authored numerous peer-reviewed papers in international scientific journals in the disciplines of food science and technology, nutrition and dietetics, and agricultural economics.

Professor Bhavani Shankar, Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health and School of Oriental and African Studies, United Kingdom

Bhavani Shankar is professor of International Agriculture, Food and Health at Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research in Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH) and the Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (CEDEP) at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He is also joint editor of Food Policy, an Elsevier journal, and a member of the Standing Panel for Impact Assessment (SPIA) for the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

He is an applied economist and his current research interests include the analysis of economic drivers of over and under nutrition, nutrition transition, dietary policy evaluation, impact assessment and the role of agriculture in enabling better nutrition and health. In the past, his research involvements have included analysis of animal disease in the Mekong region, floodplain resource management in Bangladesh and the evaluation of transgenic cotton performance in South Africa and India.

Professor Mario Mazzocchi, University of Bologna, Italy

Mario Mazzocchi is associate professor in Statistics and Economics at the Department of Statistical Sciences of the University of Bologna. He is also Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Reading, where he has previously served as a lecturer in Applied Economics and Consumer Behaviour. He is currently a consultant to FAO on nutrition policies, and has been appointed by the European Commission as a permanent member of the group of experts on the evaluation of the EU School Fruit Scheme. He is Associate Editor of the journal Food Policy. His publication record includes two books,  with Oxford University Press (Fat Economics) and Sage Publications (Statistics for Marketing and Consumer Research) and about 40 articles in international refereed papers on a variety of applied economics topics, including policy evaluation, consumer demand, health economics, marketing research methods, time series econometrics.

Professor Tino Bech-Larsen, Aarhus School of Business, Denmark

Tino Bech-Larsen is professor in Consumer Food Choice at the MAPP Centre, Aarhus University, Denmark. He has published more than 30 peer reviewed articles in food and marketing Journals. He has been involved in several national and international research projects with a focus on food consumption and health. Apart from consumer food choice, his research interests involve Cross cultural marketing and macromarketing. Tino teaches graduate courses in Cross Cultural Marketing and Marketing Communication.


The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) is a non-profit organisation which communicates science-based information on nutrition and health, food safety and quality, to help consumers to be better informed when choosing a well-balanced, safe and healthful diet.

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