In this section, we feature scientific publications of new research from Europe and the rest of the world, that may be of interest to EUFIC readers. EUFIC was not involved in this research, unless stated otherwise.
Researchers identify key personalised-nutrition business models and factors to attract and keep consumers
Personalised nutrition advice provides consumers with individual dietary recommendations based on individual genotype and phenotypic data such as height, weight and blood type. Personalised Nutrition Offerings (PNOs) refer to the delivery of a personalised nutrition product or a service, thus sharing similarities with business models. Although several PNOs are available in the marketplace, many have failed to develop into viable businesses. A search and analysis of the currently available PNOs was undertaken by researchers from Wageningen University and Research Centre, Netherlands and the company Bio-Sense in Brussels, Belgium, who are involved in the Food4Me project (www.food4me.org). Their findings were published in the journal, Genes and Nutrition.
Researchers from University College London, UK, performed a large-scale twin study to investigate the relative contribution of genetic and shared environment factors to children’s preferences for certain food groups. The study revealed a substantial genetic influence on preferences for fruits, vegetables and proteins. Further analyses showed that a shared environment has more impact on preferences for dairy, starch and snacks. Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that both genetics and environment may influence children’s food preferences.
Sustainability labelling on food and drink products informs consumers about environmental and ethical issues related to food choice and consumption. However, it is unclear what impact this information has on consumer behaviour, in light of the number of other types of information also found on food and drink packaging, including price and nutritional value. Researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark and the European Food Information Council in Belgium have published the results of a pan-European study about consumers’ concerns, understanding and use of sustainability labels on food products. Examining consumers in the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden and Poland revealed that even though the use of sustainability labels is associated with consumers’ concerns on sustainability issues and understanding of sustainability labels, the influence of sustainability labels on food choice is still limited and competes with other product-related attributes.
A team of researchers from a variety of Italian universities investigated methods of effectively communicating food safety risks to children. The researchers conducted a study in primary schools to evaluate children’s understanding of microorganisms, following either a practical or theoretical teaching approach. After the study, all the children were found to have an improved understanding of microorganisms and their functions. Furthermore, it was found that children who were given the opportunity to actively participate in practical classes were more likely to have a stronger understanding of the context in which microorganisms are found, and their impact on people and the environment.
Researchers from the Department of Human Biology, Health Food Innovation Management, Maastricht University, the Netherlands, and the Plant Biology and Crop Science group of Rothamsted Research, UK, concluded from their review of the scientific literature that the alleged adverse effects of wheat consumption on human health, caused by mechanisms related to eating behaviours, could not be substantiated. On the contrary, whole-wheat consumption has been associated with significant reductions in risks for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and improved long term weight management. The findings clarify some recently heard misconceptions concerning the consumption of wheat appearing in media, and were published in the Journal of Cereal Science.
EFSA conclude aspartame and its breakdown products are safe for human consumption at current intake levels
On 10 December 2013, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released its opinion on the re-evaluation of aspartame as a food additive and concluded that aspartame and its breakdown products are safe for human consumption at current intake levels.
The selection of portion size and actual consumption are driven by many physiological, environmental, sensory and cognitive cues which surround the eating experience. Researchers from the Northern Ireland Centre for Food and Health (NICHE), in collaboration with the University of Hertfordshire, in the UK, and the University of Alberta, in Canada, recently published the results of a study regarding the impact of nutrition labelling on food and energy intake (i.e. how consumers derive meaning from nutrition labels and how this influences their consumption). The study revealed that nutrition information which indicates low levels of fat and energy can increase food intake by 28 grams (g) and energy intake by 39 calories (kcals), compared to the baseline. The authors conclude that such nutrition labelling may give permission to misperceptions in consumer’s minds with unintended and unwanted consequences on food intake.
The Threshold for Toxicological Concern (TTC) is an approach used to assess the risk (if any) posed by chemicals to which humans are exposed at very low levels but when no toxicity data are available. The approach was evaluated at a workshop (Brussels, 8th-10th June 2011) organised by ILSI Europe with the participation of academia, industry, non-governmental organisations and regulators. The findings are summarised in a paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology in February 2013.
Energy intake and expenditure are not the only factors known to influence the success of a dietary intervention in obesity. Led by Professor M. Garaulet from University of Murcia in Spain, researchers from Spain and North America performed a large-scale prospective study to see whether timing of meals could predict weight-loss effectiveness in humans. The study revealed that early eaters lost more weight, and at a higher rate, than volunteers who ate later. At the same time, biomarkers related to obesity and weight loss remained similar between the groups. Based on these findings, researchers concluded that timing of food intake may influence the success of a weight loss therapy.
Proactive social media strategies can enable positive engagement with target audiences and impact government policy
A case study of digital media strategies of the UK-based Food Standards Agency, by researchers from the FoodRisC project, has revealed that their approach has helped in responding to the public and encouraging education to target audiences on food safety and hygiene issues. Social media has enabled the Food Standards Agency to be more immediate and flexible, especially during a food crisis. This research is an example that other government departments developing similar processes can use in order to create value for the public.