CEDAR Bulletin No. 17 – May 2016

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Dietary public health research and the food industry: towards a consensus?

fishnchipsOn 11 December 2015, CEDAR brought together dietary public health researchers, those who understand the food industry, and policymakers with a range of perspectives on if and how dietary public health researchers can work with the food industry.

We are now sharing the report of the day’s discussions and inviting wider comment to help us take forward a project to build greater consensus on this topic.

About the meeting and report

Whether it is through voluntary action, public pressure, or government legislation, little will change in the production, distribution and marketing of food without concerted industry action. But the goal of maximising profit is likely to conflict with efforts to improve dietary health. Researchers who study food choices and population diet need to understand how the food industry shapes our diets, and if and how they can work with industry, policymakers and the third sector to find solutions to pressing dietary public health problems. This area arouses strong feelings and raises many questions, and this event sought to find a way forward for the dietary public health research community.

The report has already been shared with participants to give them the chance to ensure that it fairly reflects the key areas discussed. We now welcome further reflections on the discussions presented in the report:

  • Do you feel this report reflects the key issues that need to be tackled in this area?
  • Is there anything crucial that you feel has been missed in the discussion so far?
  • Do you have any comments or suggestions on our proposed next steps listed in Section 9?
  • Are there further events or methods you would welcome to take this issue forward?

Please send comments to Oliver Francis, ocf26@cam.ac.uk. Feel free to annotate the report with track changes or comments if you would like to respond to particular points in it.

Neighbourhoods with more takeaways amplify social inequalities in unhealthy eating

photo-1426869981800-95ebf51ce900People who live or work near to a greater number of takeaway outlets are more likely to eat more takeaway food and to be overweight; but new research from CEDAR indicates that neighbourhoods saturated with fast food outlets may be particularly unhealthy for people who are socioeconomically disadvantaged.

The study suggests that policies to improve the food environment in towns and cities could be helpful in tackling social inequalities in diet and health.

In this study the researchers observed consistent differences in diet and weight by education at all levels of neighbourhood exposure to takeaway outlets. Furthermore, where exposure to takeaway outlets was greatest, differences in diet and weight across education groups were most pronounced. In other words the availability of takeaways seemed to be amplifying existing social inequalities.

This research strengthens the evidence showing that eating takeaways and being obese are linked to socioeconomic disadvantage. It also suggest that efforts to improve diets and health by regulating the number of takeaway outlets on our high streets might be particularly effective for those of lower socioeconomic status and therefore help to reduce inequalities in diet and obesity.

You can listen to lead author Dr Tom Burgoine talk about this study on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire (Report from 01:17:30). This research was also covered by The Daily Express, and Western Daily Press.

POSTNote – Barriers to healthy food

On a related note, researchers from our dietary public health research programmes have also been providing evidence and expertise for a new POSTNote Barriers to Healthy Eating.

POSTNotes from the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology are summaries for Members of Parliament of policy issues based on research literature reviews and interviews with stakeholders from across academia, industry, government and the third sector.

At CEDAR we frequently provide evidence to parliamentary and guidance bodies. You can find all our evidence submissions at www.cedar.iph.cam.ac.uk/resources/evidence-submissions 

Explore 13 year of food price changes in new CEDAR interactive

Change percentAlthough we now spend less of our income on food than we used to, UK food prices in recent years have often gone up quicker than inflation, and much quicker for some items than others.

This has the potential to impact on the food choices that people make, particularly those on a lower income.

Comparing changes in price between different foods isn’t straightforward, and the most appropriate metrics for comparison is much debated. Different camps have variously argued that food prices should be compared in terms of their calorie content, their weight, or their typical portion size. And is the percentage change most important, or is it about the absolute pounds and pence in people’s pockets?

With a new interactive graph from CEDAR, you can choose your own measures and metrics to explore 13 years of changing food prices in the UK.

Associated research papers

Walking and cycling good for health even in cities with higher levels of air pollution

STzPBJUsSza3mzUxiplj_DSC09775 pollutionThe health benefits of walking and cycling outweigh the negative effects on health of air pollution, even in cities with higher levels of air pollution, according to a new study led by CEDAR researchers.

This new evidence strengthens the case for supporting cycling even in polluted cities – an effort that in turn can help reduce vehicle emissions.

Increasing physical activity by walking or cycling in urban environment has raised concern about the potential risks of exposure to air pollution, one of the leading environmental risk factors for people’s health.

CEDAR researchers used computer simulations based on information from epidemiological studies and meta-analyses to compare the risks and benefits for different levels of intensity and duration of active travel and of air pollution in different locations around the world. They calculated that air pollution risks will not negate the health benefits of active travel in the vast majority of urban areas worldwide.

Only 1% of cities in the World Health Organization’s Ambient Air Pollution Database had pollution levels high enough for the risks of air pollution could start to overcome the benefits of physical activity after half an hour of cycling every day.

This research received widespread media coverage, including the national BBC TV News, Radio 5 Live, BBC online, Sky News, Guardian, Times (£), Buzzfeed, Daily Mail, BBC World Service, Washington Post and many outlets around the country and world including Chile’s La Tercera, Kenya’s KBC1, South China Morning post, BBC Persian radio and Yle Finnish Radio to name just a few.

More cycling and walking – online cycle planning tool and iConnect study

National Propensity to Cycle Tool (NPCT)

photo-1420641519650-9d7d0ea0a829The modelling team behind the pollution research is also preparing to formally launch the National Propensity to Cycle Tool (NPCT) in July. This Department for Transport funded tool will help transport planners decide where to invest to support growth in cycling.

Online and interactive, the NPCT can also be used to explore different scenarios and see what they might mean for cycling levels in local areas and on the road network. The tool was recently featured on the Get Britain Cycling website and in Transport Xtra magazine.

Sustrans publishes Fit for Life – a report on the iConnect Study

iConnect (Impact of COnstructing Non-motorised Networks and Evaluating Changes in Travel) was a five year study to measure and evaluate the changes in travel, physical activity and carbon emissions related to Sustrans’ Connect2 programme. Connect2 was a UK-wide project to transform local travel in 79 communities by creating new crossings and bridges to overcome barriers such as busy roads, rivers and railways, giving people easier and healthier access to their schools, shops, parks and countryside. The iConnect study involved nine institutions around the UK, with CEDAR leading the evaluation work package.

Sustrans has recently published a report Fit for Life highlighting some of the academic findings from iConnect together with other examples of schemes from the Connect2 programme. The report illustrates the importance of investment in infrastructure for walking and cycling, and the role of research in helping us understand these interventions and learn for future schemes.

GoActive gets students in the picture to kick off school recruitment campaign

GoActive_2colGoActive is a new NIHR-funded programme designed to increase physical activity in secondary school students. The GoActive programme includes the whole of Year 9, and encourages students to try new physical activities with their friends. We are currently recruiting secondary schools in East Anglia to help us evaluate the programme.

To help kick-start the programme, we worked with teenagers to write and film a simple explanation of the evaluation of GoActive. If you know of schools in the East Anglia region who might like to be involved, please share this with them and ask them to get in touch.

Creating Active School Environments for Adolescents: stakeholder event 27 June 2016

CASE large logo transparentExamining the secondary school environment, the Creating Active School Environments (CASE) project, funded by the Department of Health, aims to find ways to help adolescents be more active and sit less.

CASE is holding a stakeholder event: Monday 27 June 2016, 12:30 – 18:00    Homerton College Conference Centre – Hills Road, Cambridge, CB2 2PH.

This event will bring together those with a working interest in the topic of creating active secondary school schools: researchers, commissioners, teachers and other practitioners.

The goal is to share ideas and learning about what makes a secondary school environment support physical activity and reduce sedentary time. We intend for the day to enable a better understanding of the different approaches to modifying secondary school environments. More broadly, we hope that it will promote further collaboration and shared learning for those involved in adolescent health promotion.

Research associate vacancy – family-based physical activity intervention

The Behavioural Epidemiology programme behind CASE and GoActive is also looking to appoint a Research Associate to work on the further development and preliminary testing of a separate family-based physical activity intervention. The post holder will use both quantitative and qualitative research methods to guide intervention development and preliminary testing of the intervention. In addition, the post holder will communicate regularly with a variety of stakeholders and members of the public.

More information at: www.jobs.cam.ac.uk/job/10215/. Closing date is 25 May 2016.

MRC Festival of Medical Research – Are you in a healthy place? (Public event)

photo-1422919869950-5fdedb27cde8_donutsAs part of the MRC Festival of Medical Research CEDAR and the MRC Epidemiology Unit, present:

Are you in a healthy place? Travel, food and our neighbourhoods

Wednesday 22 June 2016, 5.30pm – 7.30pm. University Centre, Granta Place, Cambridge CB2 1RU

The places where we live, study and work shape our behaviours and health. But how healthy are our neighbourhoods?

Join science writer and broadcaster Kat Arney, and explore the latest research from the MRC Epidemiology Unit about how our neighbourhoods influence how we get around and what we eat, and what this is doing to our bodies.

Bring your smartphones, opinions and questions – and take away a new perspective on where you live.

This event is free to attend, but registration is required. Please note that this event is aimed principally at members of the public rather than academics or policymakers – so please feel free to spread the word.

Other events taking place in Cambridge during the MRC Festival of Medical Research (18 – 26 June 2016): www.mrc.ac.uk/about/events/mrc-festival-of-medical-research/mrc-festival-of-medical-research-2016-cambridge/ 

Recent CEDAR publications

openaccessThe following papers have been added to our publications database since the last CEDAR Bulletin. All are Open Access.

General public health


Physical activity

You can search over 300 CEDAR scientific papers by author, journal, study, title and abstract keywords on our publications database at www.cedar.iph.cam.ac.uk/publications 

Upcoming public health talks and conferences in Cambridge

shutterstock_124494247 SMALL25 May, 17:00: Dr Kenneth Rockwood – Professor of Geriatric Medicine and Kathryn Allen Weldon Professor of Alzheimer’s Research and chair of Alzheimer Research, Centre for Health Care of the Elderly Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Frailty in older adults: implications for contemporary health care and clinical research. CRUK CRI lecture theatre – (Li Ka Shing Centre – Robinson Way)

25 May, 9:00 – 17:00 Understanding Inequalities: new thinking for public policy. One day seminar from Cambridge Public Policy SRI. www.publicpolicy.cam.ac.uk/events/inequality-seminar

6 June, 15:00: Dr Pablo Monsivais, Centre for Diet and Activity Research, University of Cambridge.
Health Economics @ Cambridge seminar: Why is socioeconomic disadvantage associated with obesity?
Small Seminar Room, 1st Floor, Institute of Public Health, University Forvie Site, Robinson Way, Cambridge.

23-24 June 2016: Cambridge Conference on Global Food Security 2016
Harnessing the natural and social sciences for future food supply, sustainability and equality
David Attenborough Building, Cambridge

4 November, 13:00: Professor Torsten Lauritzen
Department of Public Health, Institute of General Medical Practice, Aarhus University, Denmark.
Should we screen for diabetes and related cardiovascular risk? Large Seminar Room, 1st Floor, Institute of Public Health, University Forvie Site, Robinson Way, Cambridge

Full details of all these and other talks at the Cambridge Institute of Public Health are at www.iph.cam.ac.uk/news/seminars/ 

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Questions and comments to Oliver Francis: ocf26@cam.ac.uk