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Solution Cluster 2.1.1

Motivation, Education and Information to Shift Demand for Healthy and Sustainable Food Consumption

To shift social norms and consumer preferences towards healthy, safe, humane and sustainable diets and foods through a combination of public and private sector efforts, including civil society and academia. Countries have key role as they need to establish coherent right policies and actions that will strengthen motivation for change through marketing, promotion, and approaches based on behavioral science (covered under the Healthy Food Environment paper). Countries will use education to expand understanding of why a shift is needed in dietary practices for improved health and sustainability, and how and where to access healthy and sustainable foods and diets. Information will help consumers make the right choices at points of purchase and consumption. Success of these solutions depends on related efforts to improve access, affordability, convenience and visibility of desirable foods covered in other solution clusters.

About this Solution Cluster

Investing in improved consumption patterns and building demand for healthy and sustainable diets and foods is critical for achieving SDG #s 2, 3, 12 and 13 (1,2). Healthy diets are also needed urgently for recovery from communicable diseases like COVID-19.  Motivating consumers can complement the efforts to create a healthy food environment through the right policy actions, including national dietary guidelines that incorporate both health and environmental impacts and restrictions on promotion of unhealthy and unsustainable foods are needed to inform and motivate consumers on healthy and sustainable food choices (3). Currently this information is often missing or not presented in a manner that motivates action. It is fragmented, sporadic, often invisible or inconsistent, not emotionally appealing and not positioned to bring about change. Healthy options also need to be pitched with more immediate incentives for the ‘right’ choice, e.g. price, visibility, and emotional connection with desired identities. Substantially more evidence now exists on how to shift social norms and change individual behaviors (4). Harmonizing information from multiple channels is also critical, hence the need for a coordinated initiative.  Education, using a range of channels and tools, is a critical part of meeting the needs of communities and individuals to take advantage of better food options. Motivated and educated consumers then need a whole range of solutions to help them make the right choices easy. These solutions include simple visual, interpretive labelling, using symbols on packs or on menus, point of sale materials or apps etc., combined with pricing, access and appeal.

Focus will be on motivation to change behaviors by addressing the underlying drivers of food choice, while expanding the foundation of knowledge through education and providing the right information in the right place, at the right time, to simplify making the right choices

Delivery will be through multiple channels to segmented audiences who respond to different forms and types of information, such as, social marketing, commercial advertising, point of purchase information, social media, and educational content for all that is included into school curricula from pre- to second level education and university students

Decisions will be based on scientific evidence and will foster broad ownership and innovations to improve reach and effectiveness, and will enable data to track and accelerate change in consumer demand

Knowledge will empower people by giving them tools to take care of their present and future concerns. Individuals will be able to monitor their own and their family’s diet and foods also through new digital apps.

Will appeal to a broad constituency of people. The message of promoting planetary and individual health brings everyone on board whether we are concerned about NCDs, environmental scientists, food producers, food industry leaders, retailers, marketers, socially minded news media and entertainment industry leaders, parliamentarians, academicians or others.

Will be driven by results, closely monitored and flexible enough to make revisions until we see changes in consumer demand for healthy and sustainable food

Tailored, country-specific approaches are needed to take into account the local food systems, literacy levels, cultural connotations, drivers of food choice, and opportunities to facilitate change (5).  Healthy and sustainable dietary options should be visible, accessible, appealing and fit into socio-cultural frameworks. Countries will select options to shift consumer demand that are suited to their specific contexts and will shape the activities to align with, leverage and reinforce existing efforts in their near and medium-term strategies. Country leadership will set specific targets and establish metrics and data systems to track progress. They will coordinate with alliances dedicated to healthier and more sustainable food systems to ensure a comprehensive strategy that produces results. This will be their legacy.

A focused evidence-based strategy will guide efforts to generate motivating, compelling and clear actions and promote exemplary models for delivering the interventions (see Annex 1 for components of strategies). The strategy will be grounded in behavioral science (see Annex 3), draw upon state-of-the art technical expertise to ensure strong evidence and credibility, recognize and deal with road-bumps, build momentum, and create a movement with growing population-wide adoption. Environmental research shows that diets are more sustainable the more they are plant-based and the less they are animal-based (7). However, as food system reform can be complex, relevant UN bodies will be involved in setting clear global criteria for defining healthy and sustainable foods and diets. Success requires large and sustained funding because it will take at least a decade to drive such shifts. Taxes on unhealthy and unsustainable foods could be one of the few sources of such funding, especially as governments face deficits driven by the impact of Covid19. This is especially true in LMICs.

Firstly, we will work closely with other Action Tracks. A consultation on indicators which stipulates which foods are recommended based on environment and nutrition parameters, will be convened by UN normative agencies.  At the national level, countries will engage institutes of health and nutrition, environmental sciences, universities and regulatory bodies, in addition to civil society.  This investment will leverage existing networks and initiatives to achieve breakthroughs with limited resources, for example, public procurement of food is an underutilized lever for changing demand and supply, and as a tool to promote healthy diets; international NGOs are forming clusters to support this need in countries.

Building on existing institutional capacity and initiatives, an international consortium led by appropriate UN agencies with participation from education, marketing, food systems and environmental science and research institutions, will be able to support the planning, implementation and metrics for any combination of the following components, as selected by countries.

  • Market research on consumer motivation and food choice behaviour.
  • Consumer testing of interventions for awareness, knowledge, understanding, and motivation, including point of purchase decision-making
  • Leveraging cost-effective communication channels to expand consumer exposure, reach and frequency in diverse contexts
  • Collaboration to shape policy initiatives for motivating shifts in consumer demand for foods
  • Innovations and knowledge modules for education, from primary school to university level
  • Controlling mis-information and marketing to enable healthy and sustainable food choices
  • Tracking results, data review mechanisms, and adjusting strategies to reach country targets
  • Financing ongoing efforts on consumer demand for healthy and sustainable dietary patterns  

COMPONENTS OF COUNTRY STRATEGIES TO SHIFT CONSUMER DEMAND

Building on existing institutional capacity and initiatives, an international consortium led by appropriate UN agencies with participation from education, marketing, food systems and environmental science and research institutions, will be able to support the planning, implementation and metrics for any combination of the following components, as selected by countries.

  • Market research on consumer motivation and food choice behaviour. 
  • Consumer testing of interventions for awareness, knowledge, understanding, and motivation, including point of purchase decision-making 
  • Leveraging cost-effective communication channels to expand consumer exposure, reach and frequency in diverse contexts
  • Collaboration to shape policy initiatives for motivating shifts in consumer demand for foods 
  • Innovations and knowledge modules for education, from primary school to university level
  • Controlling mis-information and marketing to enable healthy and sustainable food choices
  • Tracking results, data review mechanisms, and adjusting strategies to reach country targets 
  • Financing ongoing efforts on consumer demand for healthy and sustainable dietary patterns  

REFERENCES 
(with selected excerpts)

1.Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition. 2020. Future Food Systems: For people, our planet, and prosperity. London, UK.

Our food systems are failing to produce the foods essential for healthy diets in sufficient quantity and at affordable prices. They are also driving degradation of the natural environment – soil, water and air quality, biodiversity loss and climate change – and dangerously undermining our future well-being. Since this report was commissioned in 2018, COVID-19 has highlighted just how fragile and precarious the world’s food systems have become. The situation
is unsustainable.

Food systems are the largest cause of anthropomorphic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (28% between 2007 and 2016)5, while agriculture alone accounts for 70% of freshwater use. Even without projected global population growth, food systems are operating well beyond planetary boundaries. The pressures placed on natural resources by food production have left 25% of the
globe’s cultivated land area degraded, while deforestation for agriculture is recognized as a major and irreversible cause of biodiversity loss.5

All of these interlinked crises can be traced back to failures of policy. Put simply, the policies that fed the world in the twentieth century are no longer fit for purpose. …it is not only governments who have to act swiftly and in a bold and concerted fashion. International organizations and donors, businesses and investors, civil society advocacy groups, and individual citizens all have critically important roles to play

2.FAO & WHO, 2014. Rome Declaration on Nutrition.

Current food systems are being increasingly challenged to provide adequate, safe, diversified and nutrient rich food for all that contribute to healthy diets due to, inter alia, constraints posed by resource scarcity and environmental degradation, as well as by unsustainable production and consumption patterns, food losses and waste, and unbalanced distribution 

Commitment to: empower people and create an enabling environment for making informed choices about food products for healthy dietary practices and appropriate infant and young child feeding practices through improved health and nutrition information and education

3.Springmann M, Spajic L, Clark MA, et al (2020). The healthiness and sustainability of national and global food based dietary guidelines: modelling study. BMJ2020;370:m2322 http://dx.doi.org/10.1136 bmj.m2322

 

This analysis suggests that national guidelines could be both healthier and more sustainable. Providing clearer advice on limiting in most contexts the consumption of animal source foods,

in particular beef and dairy, was found to have the greatest potential for increasing the environmental sustainability of dietary guidelines, whereas increasing the intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and legumes, reducing the intake of red and processed meat, and highlighting the importance of attaining balanced energy intake and weight levels were associated with most of the additional health benefits. The health results were based on observational data and assuming a causal relation between dietary risk factors and health outcomes. The certainty of evidence for these relations is mostly graded as moderate in existing meta-analyses.

4.Temme E, Vellinga RE, de Ruiter H, et al Demand-Side Food Policies for Public and Planetary Health. Sustainability 2020, 12, 5924; doi:10.3390/su12155924

Working solutions are available to ensure coherent and effective demand side food policies aligning public health and environmental aims. Categories of policies and approaches:

Administrative policies: The state’s authority to monitor, prohibit, or mandate behavior is perhaps one of the most characteristic expression of the authority of sovereign governments. A distinction can be made between hard and soft regulations. Hard regulations have a mandatory nature and often target local/national authorities, producers or retailers. Regulatory instruments that aim to influence consumer behavior include laws, directives and regulations. Soft regulations include, for instance, co-regulations whereby the government delegates the achievement of policy objectives to other actors (such as industries or non-governmental organizations). Under this “semi” regulatory approach, the relevant policy initiators usually set out key deadlines and mechanisms for implementation, methods of monitoring and application of sanctions. Another example of soft regulation is voluntary agreements, where the industry supports and engages in voluntary pledges such as agreements on food reformulation towards lower salt and sugar contents of foods.

Market based interventions: To tax, spend and subsidize are among the powers that governments have at their disposal to incentivize behavioral change of individuals and businesses. Taxation might also be used to regulate risk behavior and to influence health-promoting choices, while providing the government with the financial resources for public health services. However, it should be noted that private businesses often have the final say over the final price of goods and services, depending on the tax prescriptions. E.g., a 100% passthrough of the tax to the final consumer could also be a requirement. Subsidies and other financial incentives given by governments could serve as “carrots”, and taxes as a “stick” to encourage consumers and households to eat more sustainably

Information approaches: There is a long tradition within the field of public health to rely on the provision of information on healthy lifestyles and risky behaviors to promote behavior change. Health authorities can seek to influence behavior by using communication/information instruments at various levels of intervention. At the individual level, education is frequently used to counsel individuals at risk for diseases. At the community level, lifestyle information is provided and supportive environments for behavior change can be created (e.g., dietary guidelines or nutrition standards for foods offered in public settings). Typical examples at the population level include social marketing and education to promote healthy lifestyles (e.g., food-based dietary guidelines or health communication campaigns).

Behavioral science-based interventions: Governments increasingly use behavioral insights to supplement or replace more traditional policy instruments. These interventions simplify processes to make benefits more readily available. Behaviorally informed policies might be very cost effective and are therefore an attractive option for governments. A key feature of these insights is to nudge people towards the desired behavior. Nudging has been described as “any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives”. This original definition of nudging excludes legislation, regulation, and interventions that alter economic incentives, but it includes a wide variety of interventions to change social or physical environments to make certain types of behavior more likely. 

5.Blake CE, Frongillo EA, Warren AM, et al (2021). Elaborating the science of food choice for rapidly changing food systems in low-and middle-income countries. Global Food Security, Volume 28, 2021,100503. doi.org/10.1016/j.gfs.2021.100503.

The science of food choice is concerned with generating knowledge about causal drivers of food choice decision making processes and behavior within immediate food and social environments. Not all food choice behavior is rational, reflexive, or discrete, but is embedded in wider activities of daily lives. The science of food choice involves understanding influences from multiple systems that drive food choice for deriving sound, actionable policy, and programmatic recommendations.

6.SMART BRIEF. https://www.smartbrief.com/original/2020/09/understanding-what-today%E2%80%99s-eco-conscious-food-consumers-want

A newcomer to the sustainability-marketed food category in recent years, plant-based foods are surging in popularity. …concerns about sustainability were tertiary to taste and health for consumers who choose plant-based food and beverages…  For these reasons, in order to keep attracting eco-conscious food consumers, the industry needs to maintain all three priorities — taste, health benefits and environmental impact, “The expectation for plant-based foods has now become about substitution without sacrifice”  

Consumers are increasingly paying attention to how their food is produced and showing support for businesses that demonstrate care for the environment. From plant-based meat alternatives to waste initiatives and new packaging technologies, restaurants, consumer packaged goods manufacturers and food retailers are all investing in new, innovative ways to give eco-conscious consumers what they’re prioritizing in their food choices.

7.Clark, M. A., Springmann, M., Hill, J., & Tilman, D. (2019). Multiple health and environmental impacts of foods. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116(46), 23357–23362. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1906908116

Dietary choices are a leading global cause of mortality and environmental degradation and threaten the attainability of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement. To inform decision making and to better identify the multifaceted health and environmental impacts of dietary choices, we describe how consuming 15 different food groups is associated with 5 health outcomes and 5 aspects of environmental degradation. We find that foods associated with improved adult health also often have low environmental impacts, indicating that the same dietary transitions that would lower incidences of noncommunicable diseases would also help meet environmental sustainability targets.

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