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UCC researcher to lead project on food related inequality across Europe

13 Jun 2024
Project lead of FOODPATH, Dr Janas Harrington, School of Public Health at UCC.
  • FOODPATH is an initiative dedicated to identifying and addressing the determinants of food-related inequalities in Europe.
  • The €1.6 million project includes partners from six European countries and is led by Dr Janas Harrington in the School of Public Health at UCC.
  • FOODPATH will provide the necessary structural changes to ensure all European citizens, regardless of socioeconomic status, can make healthier food choices.

A new European-wide initiative led by a researcher at University College Cork (UCC) is to identify and understand the wide causes of food inequality.

In response to increasing dietary and health inequalities exacerbated by changes in the food environment and the urgent need for food policies to improve food environments for all citizens, the groundbreaking initiative FOODPATH has been launched.

FOODPATH will analyse the societal, commercial, and political factors that influence our food behaviours. Using this data researchers across Europe will identify comprehensive solutions to promote healthier food environments allowing equal access to healthier food for all in society. These solutions will have the potential to break the cycle that maintains dietary inequalities in Europe.

Governments across Europe recognise the critical importance of a healthy diet for the well-being of their citizens. However, significant health disparities exist, with different socioeconomic groups having unequal access to healthy foods necessary for maintaining good health.

Over the past decade, socioeconomic inequalities in diet and health have widened. These disparities are linked to detrimental changes in the food environment, and the various contexts in which people interact with the food system to make their food choices. Traditional government strategies have focused on encouraging individuals to change their dietary behaviour without addressing the underlying food environment, resulting in limited success, and exacerbating inequalities.

Led by Dr Janas Harrington in the School of Public Health at UCC, FOODPATH includes partners from six European countries: Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, and Türkiye. By adopting a broad perspective, FOODPATH will investigate the factors influencing dietary behaviours among disadvantaged communities and assess how food policy, social policy, and commercial interests impact these inequalities.

FOODPATH is to break the cycles that perpetuate unhealthy dietary behaviours and food-related inequalities in Europe. The initiative will:

  • Explore the complex web of determinants leading to poor diets.
  • Provide structural insights and solutions to improve the food environment.
  • Propose comprehensive actions and policies to promote healthy dietary choices for the entire population.

FOODPATH represents a growing consensus that structural changes are necessary to create a shift towards healthier dietary choices. This initiative will bring together experts from various fields to develop and implement solutions aimed at reducing food-related inequalities. By addressing these issues at their roots, FOODPATH seeks to foster a healthier, more equitable society.

As FOODPATH progresses, it will deliver actionable recommendations and policies to transform the food environment in Europe. This initiative promises to provide the necessary structural changes to ensure all citizens, regardless of socioeconomic status, have the opportunity to make healthier food choices.

Project lead, Dr Janas Harrington, said: “Access to healthy and nutritious food is a basic human right, however a significant proportion of Irish and European citizens are living daily with food insecurity and food poverty.  Poor nutrition has adverse impacts on our physical and mental health and well-being, however making the necessary changes to improve our dietary behaviour is not easy.  In FOODPATH, we will explore the wider food environment to understand what is driving food behaviours and to propose solutions to change the food environment to provide equal opportunities for all citizens to access safe, affordable, and nutritious food.”

FOODPATH is funded by the Health Research Board (Ireland) under the umbrella of the Partnership Fostering a European Research Area for Health (ERA4Health). The EU-funded ERA4Health Partnership brings together 33 partners and 27 funding organisations from 22 countries, with the common goal of fostering high-impact translational research for addressing public health needs.

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