Should we change the number of less healthy food options available rather than the number of healthier options?

We examined the impact on food selection of the number of (i) healthier and (ii) less healthy snack foods available in an online study of 1,509 adults. Offering additional less healthy options was twice as likely to affect the foods selected than offering additional healthier options. This suggests that removing less healthy as opposed to adding healthier food options could have greater impact on encouraging healthier selections.

Availability of healthier vs. less healthy food and food choice: an online experiment. Pechey, R., & Marteau, T. M. BMC Public Health

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Does increasing the proportion of healthier options in cafeterias lead to healthier purchasing?

Six English worksite cafeterias increased the proportions of healthier cooked meals, snacks, cold drinks and/or sandwiches available. Healthier options were defined as those with fewer calories (kcal). When cafeterias offered these healthier options, there was a 7% reduction in calories purchased from targeted food categories. Increasing the proportion of lower calorie foods in worksite cafeterias seems a promising intervention for healthier consumption.

Impact of increasing the proportion of healthier foods available on energy purchased in worksite cafeterias: A stepped wedge randomized controlled pilot trial. Pechey, R., Cartwright, E., Pilling, M., Hollands, G. J., Vasiljevic, M., Jebb, S. A., & Marteau, T. M. Appetite.

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Do image-based warning labels reduce selection of sugary drinks by parents for their children?

Our new study published in Preventive Medicine Reports on 23rd October 2018 indicates that placing image-based warning labels on SSBs reduced their selection by participating parents choosing a beverage for their children.

During the study, 2002 parents viewed a selection of sugary and non-sugary drinks online, presented either without a label, a calorie information label or an image-based warning with or without calorie information and were asked to choose one for their child to consume. The proportion of parents selecting a sugary drink was lower when the drinks were presented with an image-based warning, compared to when no label or just calorie information were used. The most effective label included the image of the rotting teeth.

The study indicates that image-based warning labels, especially those illustrating the health consequences of excess sugar consumption, have the potential to reduce the selection of SSBs by parents for their children.

To read the findings of the study in full, click on the link.

Impact of warning labels on sugar-sweetened beverages on parental selection: An online experimental study. Preventive Medicine Reports. E Mantzari, M Vasiljevic, I Turney, M Pilling, T Marteau.

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Lessons from a case of academic misconduct

How should academic institutions—universities, funders, and journal editors— address academic misconduct of the type now known to have been committed by Brian Wansink, John Dyson professor of marketing at Cornell University? Wansink has had a total of 13 articles retracted as of 10 October 2018, following investigation by Cornell which found “misreporting of research data, problematic statistical techniques, failure to properly document and preserve research results, and inappropriate authorship.”

Dr Gareth Hollands and Professor Theresa Marteau (Behaviour and Health Research Unit), writing with Professor Marcus Munafo (Bristol) in the BMJ, argue that open research practices provide the research community with a framework for minimising academic misconduct of the kind perpetrated by Wansink. Click below to access the full text.

Open science prevents mindless science. BMJ. Munafò, M. R., Hollands, G. J., & Marteau, T. M.

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Does communicating evidence of policy effectiveness influence public support for the policy?

In a new paper investigating public acceptability for policy interventions to improve health (published in Social Science and Medicine 4th October, 2018), researchers tested ways to communicate quantitative evidence of the effectiveness of a hypothetical tax on confectionery to help tackle childhood obesity.

The study comprised of a series of experiments, involving nearly 10,000 people. Researchers used results obtained from the first two experiments to improve their infographics and accompanying numerical information provided to study participants in the succeeding experiment. The third experiment, using the improved materials, consequently showed increased support for the hypothetical tax, equivalent to increasing the number who support the tax from 45% to 49%. Click on the read more button for further details about this study.

Communicating quantitative evidence of policy effectiveness and support for the policy: Three experimental studies. Reynolds JP, Pilling M, Marteau TM. Soc Sci Med.

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Partnerships with the alcohol industry at the expense of public health

Partnerships between public health agencies and industries which trade in potentially harmful products or activities – such as the recently announced and much criticised partnership between Public Health England (PHE) and the alcohol industry-funded body, Drinkaware – risk delaying or preventing effective policies to improve population health, say public health scientists Mark Petticrew, Martin McKee and Theresa Marteau in their Lancet Comment, published online on September 20th 2018. The authors say that such partnerships with industry promote voluntary models of harm reduction which are largely ineffective and are likely to benefit the relevant industries rather than improving the health of the nation. They conclude by recommending that PHE should work with the public health community to redefine its relationships with industry.

Professor Dame Theresa Marteau is Director of the (BHRU) at the University of Cambridge.

Partnerships with the alcohol industry: furthering industry interests at the expense of public health. Petticrew M, Marteau TM, McKee M. Lancet.

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