The health and environmental impacts of health and environmental claims in the UK
Suboptimal diet is a leading risk factor for ill-health. Within the UK the average diet is suboptimal. Food labelling policies could improve population health through encouraging healthier dietary choices by consumers, influencing food availability decisions by retailers, and encouraging reformulation by manufacturers. Health-related claims (HRCs) are statements that convey the nutritional quality of a food (nutrition claims) and/or its impact on a health outcome (health claims). Previous research has found that HRCs have a significant impact on dietary choices but that foods with HRCs only have a marginally better nutritional profile than foods without claims. However, these estimates are derived from 2013 data.
There would seem to be a growing number of environment-related claims (ERCs) on foods conveying information about their environmental impact (e.g. ‘low-carbon’). It is unclear what impact, if any, ERCs have on population health. This is because the prevalence of ERCs, the nutritional quality of foods carrying ERCs, and their impact on the healthiness and sustainability of diets has not been adequately assessed. This is important given the increasing focus on the relationship between health and environment.
The project aims to evaluate the diet/health impact of HRCs and ERCs on food and beverages in the UK. This will include: estimating the prevalence and nutritional composition of foods carrying HRCs and ERCs; an optional data validation study; and exploring the impact of claims on UK diets and health/environmental outcomes through modelling.
RESEARCH EXPERIENCE, RESEARCH METHODS AND TRAINING
Analysis of foods available to purchase in the UK
This will involve using foodDB data to estimate the prevalence and nutritional composition of foods with HRCs and ERCs. foodDB is a database developed by the Diet, Data and Interventions Group (DDIG) containing data on all foods and drinks available in six UK online supermarkets. This project will require data cleaning and categorisation.
Validation exercise (optional)
This will involve measuring the agreement between claims information available on supermarket websites/foodDB and that present on food labels/in-store following similar methods developed by NDPH researchers.
Exploration of the public health relevance of claims
This will involve exploring the health and environmental impacts of claims possibly through a modelling exercise adapting health models developed by DDIG researchers (e.g. the Preventable Risk Integrated ModEl (PRIME) and Oxford Environmental Impact Score).
Suitable for a candidate with experience working with large datasets, strong quantitative analysis skills, and an interest in diet and public health.