Woman smiling while cooking. Various fruit, vegetable and bread on the table in front of her.

“It is not just about feeding people, it’s about feeding people well,” UK expert to tell 2022 Food Futures Conference

“It is not just about feeding people, it’s about feeding people well,” UK expert to tell 2022 Food Futures Conference

Jeremy Lasek – PHAA

With many of us preparing to shed those unwanted festive season kilos, what better time than now to plug our upcoming PHAA Food Futures Conference, which is only two months away.

The online conference will be held over two days (Wednesday 16 and Thursday 17 March) with the theme, Transforming food systems for planetary and public good.

Confirmed to speak at the Conference is the co-lead of the Population Health Interventions Program at the University of Cambridge’s MRC Epidemiology Unit, Dr Jean Adams. Dr Adams will address the audience on: Changing the environment to support equity in healthier eating: opportunities and challenges.

The overall goal of Dr Adams’ work is to investigate the potential of whole population interventions to shift diet patterns (and inequalities in these) by altering fiscal, physical or social environments.

“Examples of current interventions we are studying include restrictions on television food advertising, calorie labelling in chain restaurants, taxes on sugary drinks, and planning restrictions on where new hot food takeaways can open,” Dr Adams said.

Her impressive list of research projects also includes:

  • An evaluation of online food marketing;
  • Understanding the association between use of digital food delivery services and household food purchasing behaviours;
  • Evidence for obesity prevention;
  • Evaluation of the removal of ‘junk-food’ advertising in public transport networks;
  • Exploring the impacts of removing less healthy food from retail checkouts; and
  • Determinants and outcomes of home food preparation.

On that last point, Dr Adams has conducted several studies in how to improve the eating habits of a nation, including the potential importance of ‘good old fashioned home cooking’.

”We know that people want to eat well,” Dr Adams told the Cambridge Independent. Yet the article reported that at least one takeaway meal was eaten weekly, by one in four members of the UK population.

So, how do we encourage people to eat more healthily?

”As a scientist, it’s not my job to say whose responsibility it is, but I know that people find it difficult to do what they want in terms of being healthy because of the environmental barriers,” Dr Adams said.

The Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), a partnership between the University of Cambridge, the University of East Anglia and the MRC Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge, has spent more than a decade exploring how to help people be more active and eat healthier diets.

“We are looking at this at a population level. We are not getting people in and telling them they should eat more apples and fewer biscuits, but about how we can change the environment to make it a healthier place to live,” Dr Adams said.

According to the Cambridge Independent report, CEDAR’s 2017 study concluded that people “who cooked more often at home were less likely to consume heavily processed foods, like sausages, burgers or sweet snacks which tend to be higher in saturated fat, sodium and sugar than other foods.”

Dr Adams said that, in the past 5 decades, people had spent less time performing home cooking.  Perhaps improving cooking skills is part of the answer to the world’s growing waistline.

And why not, in this era of celebrity chefs and high-rating TV cooking shows?

So, how do we get people to cook more?

“I suspect it’s about making it culturally appropriate – make it a normal thing that people do, making it quick, easy, accessible,” Dr Adams said.

In the UK, the importance of nutrition was highlighted when food and cooking were reintroduced into the national schools’ curriculum in 2014.

“The School Food Plan talks a lot about a whole school culture around food and encouraging children to be interested and enjoy food from a really early age and understand where it comes from.”

As a committee member of the Global Food Initiative in Cambridge, Dr Adams continues to explore interventions that work.

“As a public health representative, I represent the point of view that it is not just about feeding people, it’s about feeding people well,” she added.

Registrations for the virtual Food Futures Conference are still available here.


Image: Jason Briscoe/Unsplash

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