Cluster 5 Consumer cognitive response to food
Irish people have experienced a unique set of circumstances over the past fifteen years, given the rapid growth of the Irish economy and the resulting dramatic changes (both positive and negative) in the lifestyle of Irish people. These changes range from increased disposable income for children, adolescents and adults, increased commuting and working times, changes to family structures, a perceived deterioration in cooking skills and availability of a wider range of both fresh and processed food. The impact of these changes on the health behaviour of the Irish population is poorly defined. In particular, we lack reliable data on the nature and magnitude of social, cultural and economic change on food choice in Ireland.
The focus of work in this Research Cluster is on the socio-demographical, psychological, physiological, health status factors which drive consumer food choice. In particular, we will address the myriad influences that bear on food choices from the perspective of individuals with and without diagnosed metabolic disorders and other illness related to diet and obesity. Drawing on existing databases and new data generated by the NRC in the Cork & Kerry study (Cluster 3) and the Obesity Cohort (Cluster 4), we will combine subjective and attitudinal data to food and health with bio-markers reflecting health status to gain insight into the link between food attitudes, behavior and health.
In linked media content and policy analysis studies, we will also address the societal and cultural trends which create the backdrop or context for the food choices we make as individuals and the policy options we consider at the societal level.
Progress to Date
The work of Cluster 5 is strongly linked to and leverages the activities of Clusters 2, 3 and 4. The focus of the work in this Research Cluster is on the socio-demographic, psychological, physiological and health status factors which drive consumer food choice. In particular, we aim to understand the myriad of influences that bear on food choices from the perspective of individuals with and without diagnosed metabolic disorders and other illnesses related to diet and obesity. We also aim to understand the societal and cultural trends which create the backdrop or context for the food choices made. These aims are consistent with those originally proposed and are not only still relevant but are increasingly important to health policy and practice.
To achieve these aims a multi-pronged approach has been adopted. Both existing and newly generated data are used to explore the complexities around food behavioural patterns. Secondary analyses have been ongoing on existing datasets on consumption behaviours and determinants of food consumption both from Ireland and across Europe with the aim of determining the differential impact of economic, psychological, social and cultural factors upon consumer attitudes to food, health and obesity-related issues. Ongoing analyses have been used to inform subsequent research and intervention proposals to promote healthy eating as per the original aim. In relation to primary data collection, the ‘life-course approach’ guides the qualitative research strand and newly generated data are drawn from Clusters 2, 3, and 4 population samples. The qualitative research instruments were designed to fit with cluster characteristics and this research phase is close to completion. A second phase of research involves quantitative research which builds on the initial findings of the qualitative phase. This benefitted from an additional piece of research (qualitative life course study) that also informed research instrument design. This quantitative work has commenced with research instruments designed to fit with the characteristics of the target cohorts. Importantly the data (both qualitative and quantitative) from these two stages will be linked to the datasets being generated from their partner clusters. This will facilitate in depth analysis of influences on food choice across individuals with and without illness related to diabetes and obesity. A large-n survey will be designed based on a detailed analysis of the qualitative and quantitative data. This work contributes to the knowledge base of contextualised influences on food choice that can inform policy and intervention programmes. In tandem with this work a media audit is being conducted which considers how the media frames discourse on the topic of obesity. This framing will then be considered against lay discourse to understand the extent that one mirrors the other and the consequences for further engagement with the public. Research is steadily progressing in line with the original objectives and deliverables .
Additional pieces of research are also being undertaken under the auspices of the HRB centre. This work, being undertaken by PhD students, builds on the research approaches being utilised within the cluster. Two PhD students and two MSc Students are registered and funded by the project. The two funded MSc students have applied for transfers onto the PhD track, and currently funding is being sought elsewhere to support the additional year of work. Therefore, in total 6 PhD students are contributing to and benefitting from the centre activities as are the two master students. All of these students have received training on aspects germane to their research, for example they have completed a 2-day workshop on NVivo for qualitative analysis and completed a training session on poster design and presentation.
The research team has been active in disseminating their research findings. This has involved active and passive dissemination in the form of peer reviewed journal articles (8), presenting at national (11) and international (8) conferences and workshops and acting in advisory roles (includes interaction with key stakeholders such as Nutrition & Heath Foundation, safefood, food industry and policy-makers). The cluster has a clear plan of action for the dissemination of significant findings over the coming years to ensure maximum impact on policy and practice. To ensure continuity of research activity team members have and are applying for funding from various sources.