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.
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.
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.
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.
Researchers from Europe and Asia have joined forces to undertake an international project regarding salt reduction among the general population. By means of a cross-sectional study, perceptions, attitudes and behaviours related to salt intake were investigated in eight developed and developing countries around the world. The study revealed that participants largely underestimated their individual salt intake and they also showed difficulties in identifying the main dietary sources of salt. Respondents further contradicted themselves as they showed low interest in salt reduction while, at the same time, such behaviour (i.e. salt reduction) was perceived as healthy and important. Based on these findings, the group of researchers offers advice in developing global intervention programmes for salt reduction, including nationally tailored strategies to engage and interest consumers.