One way communication does not work. No better proof is that previous attempts to increase public awareness of healthily eating have failed. Despite numerous campaigns, no significant change occurred in patterns of food purchase and consumption. Worse, the number of people suffering of obesity and diet-related chronic diseases has increased at an alarming rate in the past decades.
To address this issue, an EU funded project called INPROFOOD aims to foster a dialogue and mutual learning between industry, academia and the civil society. It hopes to identify the needs of each party when designing research projects pertaining to food and health. Until now, the problem was that “there is simply no method to evaluate direct public needs ‘bottom up’ on a European level,” project coordinator Klaus Hadwiger tells youris.com.
Now, the challenge is to identify the needs of stakeholders. Particularly, from those whose voices otherwise might not be heard. “By giving a pan-European perspective, it is expected to, ultimately, help identify the pressing issues that future EU-funded food and health research should address”, explains Hadwiger, who is also project co-ordinator at the Life Science Center at the University Hohenheim in Germany.
"Identifying the gaps in the body of evidence related to food and health research and shaping them into the appropriate format for prioritization requires a diverse stakeholder group”, Gabriele Riccardi Professor of Endocrinology and Metabolic Diseases at University of Naples Federico II, Italy, tells youris.com. Stakeholders of 13 European countries will take part to a series of 39 workshops whose outcomes is due to be discussed at a conference in Brussels by the end of 2013.
Stakeholders are selected from a database—free for all to consult—including representatives of grocery producers, food technology, nutrition and health sector researchers, patient organisations and support groups linked to diet related problems. "It may be relevant to consider also consumer expectations as well as potential interests of the food industry in relation to the impact of foods on human health,” says Riccardi. She believes that the major limitation of this process is finding “appropriate study design to answer the most relevant research questions.”
Other experts also believe that some solutions may lie elsewhere than in food and health research policy. Harald Seitz, nutritionist at the Aid Information Service for Diet, Agriculture and Consumerism in Bonn, Germany, tells youris.com: “A big chance to increase public’s awareness to eat more healthily would be to establish nutrition courses in school, to conduct flavour and olfactory tests with children in kindergarten or to organize cooking sessions for adults in socially deprived quarters, were healthy eating can also be a question of [resources].”
Finally, sharing good practice of raising public awareness among European countries could do a lot for the adoption of a healthy diet. Caroline Bollars technical officer at the Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity section of the World Health Organisation in Copenhagen, Denmark, and one of the partners in the project, quotes the example of a labelling initiative based on including a keyhole symbol on healthy food adopted in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. “It aims to make the healthy choice easy for consumers,” Bollars explains, “over the years it has also proven to be a good tool for developing new and healthier products.”
13 September 2012