A consortium of Universities and innovation partners has been awarded £5.4 million from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to run a programme of trials in the food system to evaluate interventions that aim to support healthier and more sustainable diets. The research has been funded via the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
The SALIENT consortium is a cross institutional and interdisciplinary partnership co-led by Professor Martin White of the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge and Professor Peter Scarborough of the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford. It also includes the Behavioural Insights Team, Nesta, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Queen Mary University of London, University of Birmingham, University of Hertfordshire, University of Liverpool and University of Warwick.
SALIENT is funded by a £5.4 million research grant, awarded through a commissioning process run by the ESRC, and will conduct work between January 2023 and March 2025. The funding comes from the government’s Evaluation Accelerator Fund (EAF), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Poor diet is the second leading cause of death and ill health in the UK, after smoking. In England, 28% of adults (12.6 million people) are obese, with a further 38% are overweight, and obesity is directly responsible for illness and deaths from many diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and several types of cancer. A series of government policies over the past three decades have sought to tackle obesity in England, but an analysis published by Professor White and Unit colleague Dr Dolly Theis in 2021 found they largely failed because of problems with implementation, lack of learning from past successes or failures due to absent or poor evaluation, and a reliance on trying to persuade individuals to change their behaviour rather than tackling unhealthy environments.
The SALIENT programme will design and trial multiple interventions across different sectors, such as reducing availability of unhealthy foods in supermarkets or promoting plant based alternatives in canteens, to assess their cost-effectiveness. The grant forms part of the government response to the National Food Strategy and it aims to improve the evidence base around what works and how to improve diets.
The consortium team will engage with food system partners including major retailers as well as members of the public to design and test interventions that encourage the purchase of healthier and more sustainable food. Interventions will be tested in three priority settings – grocery and out of home retailing, catering and community support. The programme will run until March 2025.
The programme is designed to help inform best practice and evidence-based policy. Members of the consortium are working closely with a programme board led by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which includes officials across several government departments.
Professor White said:
There is limited existing research evidence to inform a interventions in the food system. Much more is needed if we are to realise the ambition of the National Food Strategy Plan. Government has responded by funding this innovative research programme that will work at pace across many fronts simultaneously to rapidly generate new knowledge of what works and for whom in real world settings. We hope our findings will importantly inform future policies to transform the food system towards greater environmental sustainability and better health outcomes for all”
Additional information about the SALIENT programme
The consortium includes Behavioural Insights Team, Nesta, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of Birmingham, University of Cambridge, University of Hertfordshire, University of Liverpool, University of Oxford, and University of Warwick.
This programme is a partnership between ESRC and multiple government departments, including:
- Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
- Food Standards Agency (FSA)
- Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)
- Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC)
- Department for Education (DfE)
It is part funded by a successful bid to the Cabinet Office’s Evaluation Accelerator Fund (EAF) that was led by Defra.
Announced by the Chancellor in the autumn 2021 Budget, the EAF is aimed at addressing nationally important evidence gaps by supporting research activity that could inform future policy and spending decisions. The EAF is particularly targeted at supporting research using experimental and quasi-experimental methods.
This funding opportunity is also made possible by financial contributions from Defra and the FSA.