The European Union-funded project EATWELL has looked at private sector marketing techniques to see whether they could be applied to the public sector in its efforts to promote healthier eating.
EATWELL (Interventions to Promote Healthy Eating Habits: Evaluation and Recommendations) aims to provide European member states with best practice guidelines for developing policy interventions to encourage healthy eating across Europe.
Jessica Aschemann-Witzel, assistant professor and researcher at MAPP, Centre for Research on Customer Relations in the Food Sector, at Aarhus University, led the research that was based on selected case studies of successful marketing techniques.
She said: “We especially selected cases that had some health relations so either it was a healthy product, or it was maybe a food product that was communicated with regard to healthiness, or it was maybe a product that was reformulated and therefore had health relations.”
They also took a mix of cases from across Europe, different company sizes and product categories, for example. Then the researchers identified common threads among them, called ‘success factors’.
The result is a model of how healthy eating campaigns could be improved, according to Aschemann-Witzel, who was speaking in a podcast about the research published on the European Food Information Council (EUFIC) website.
She said that one factor was trend awareness and making use of trends when designing healthy eating campaigns.
She added: “Another recommendation would be to have a stronger emotional appeal. These kind of campaigns make it possible to link with common values and of course one recommendation was that the information should be simple, clear and achievable and also the short-term benefits should be stressed.
“We also recommend that public-private partnerships should be used much more. Then the know-how could be shared and it might be more easy to use these success factors.”
Because the research was based on case studies, Aschemann-Witzel pointed out that there was no statistical assessment so there were no guarantees.
Also obstacles that might be faced include lack of funding, scepticism towards marketing-like approaches and organisational structures that make it difficult to react quickly trends.
However, she said: “Our model in a way can be like a checklist when designing a healthy eating campaign.”
Tackling unhealthy diets has become a public health challenge as obesity statistics in most Member States have doubled over the last 20 years, according to a report last year from the European Commission and the OECD.
EATWELL also investigated national policy interventions that have been used to encourage physical activity and healthy eating across the EU. It aims to identify the gaps, success and failures of these campaigns to develop best practice guidelines for the future.