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All UK adults are invited to help progress research on diets and health by taking part in a short online survey.

Diets in the UK have seen large changes in recent years, with more people adopting or experimenting with different eating habits, including flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan. But there is very little information about what people following these different diets actually eat, or the motivations behind their choices. For health researchers, this makes it difficult to explore why different diets may be associated with different disease risks.

To address this, researchers from Oxford Population Health’s Cancer Epidemiology Unit (CEU) have launched a new study called ‘Feeding the Future’ (FEED). This aims to describe what UK adults actually eat on a day-to-day basis by asking volunteers to complete an online survey about their diet, personal characteristics and the motivations behind their food choices.

Principal investigator Dr Keren Papier, a senior nutritional epidemiologist within CEU, said: ‘Evidence from large-scale observational studies suggests that some plant-based diets may have positive health effects. For example, vegetarian diets appear to be associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease, and also diabetes. But a ‘plant-based diet’ (eg a vegetarian diet) can be interpreted very differently – it could be one based on foods such as wholegrains and pulses, or alternatively include more recently-developed processed ‘meat alternatives’. As a result, when we see differences in disease associations between dietary groups, it is really hard to investigate what might be the underlying reason.’

To address this, FEED is looking for at least 5,000 UK adults of all diets to complete the questionnaire. The survey is approximately 20 minutes long and is open to all UK residents aged 18 years or over, whether they are a carnivore, vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian. ‘We are also interested in short-term plant-based diets, so it would be great to hear from people who took part in Veganuary’ said Dr Papier.

Besides increasing our understanding of how disease risks may be different in low and non-meat eaters, the results from FEED could help inform future research and even dietary recommendations. ‘For example, if the survey data indicate that many plant-based diets are lacking in certain nutrients, such as Vitamin B12, this could prompt greater efforts to ensure that these people achieve an adequate intake, for instance, using supplements’ said Dr Papier.

FEED is being conducted in collaboration with the Livestock, Environment and People (LEAP) project at the University of Oxford (funded by Wellcome), and the World Health Organization.

Access the survey.

Find out more on the FEED study webpage.