Nesta, along with several academic partners and the Behavioural Insights Team, has been awarded grant funding from the UKRI ESRC for the SALIENT Food Trials project (part-funded by a successful bid to the Cabinet Office’s Evaluation Accelerator Fund). The project, led by Professor Peter Scarborough from the University of Oxford and Professor Martin White from The University of Cambridge, aims to design and evaluate a series of trials across the food sector to encourage healthy and sustainable diets. This work is an exciting opportunity for the healthy life mission at Nesta and will contribute to our aim of improving the evidence for interventions that promote healthy diets for everyone. It is particularly exciting that the work is sponsored by several government departments, including Defra and DHSC as it increases our potential to create wider impact.
Rising rates of obesity in the UK are a major public health concern. Efforts to curb this trend in the form of interventions that focus on individual responsibility have had limited success and obesity rates in 2022 are now double those in 1990. We need to change the way we view obesity and shift the focus away from individual responsibility and willpower towards an appreciation of the role the wider food environment plays in our health. Specifically, how what surrounds us and is available to us in stores and restaurants has a significant impact on the decisions we make. As well as contributing to high obesity rates, our food environments are also operating unsustainably. It is estimated that 35% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the food we eat.
As part of the SALIENT consortium (salient stands for Food System triALs for Impact on Environment, Nutrition and healTh), we will partner with organisations across the food system in England to design and robustly evaluate ideas that could create healthy and sustainable shifts in consumer purchasing. These could include encouraging the purchasing of healthier and more sustainable products through favourable pricing and promotions or increasing the availability of healthy and sustainable foods by providing alternative products at the point of sale.
The SALIENT food trials project will work with the public, policymakers and food system partners to design and evaluate a set of interventions that can increase purchasing of healthy, sustainable foods across a range of contexts. The project is split into two phases: the co-design phase, which was completed in May 2023 and the delivery phase which will run for 22 months from June 2023 onwards.
In March this year, the consortium was invited to bid for funding for the delivery phase of the programme. Our application was successful and we have been awarded £5.4 million for the delivery phase.
The co-design phase of the programme started by reviewing existing evidence on which interventions and settings are likely to be the most effective at improving access to and uptake of healthy and sustainable diets. Researchers in the consortium also conducted qualitative research with members of the public to assess the support for the ideas we thought would be most effective. We used this research to work with a range of food system partners across retail, catering and the community support sectors to develop robust evaluation plans for potential trials.
We will build on this work in the delivery phase where we will implement and evaluate several exciting interventions in real-world trials across the English food system.
This is an exciting opportunity for Nesta to be working alongside internationally renowned food system researchers, as well as liaising with stakeholders across government on a priority research project aimed at improving the health and environmental impacts of the food system.
Consortium partners: University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of Liverpool, University of Warwick, University of Birmingham, University of Hertfordshire, Behavioural Insights Team
Government partners: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Cabinet Office, Food Standards Agency, Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), Department for Education, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities