Major grant targets healthy choices at the supermarket

Improving Health and Wellbeing

A Deakin-led study that aims to alter consumer food choices has been successful in the latest round of NHMRC Partnership Grants.

A partnership between Deakin University, Champions IGA, the City of Greater Bendigo and VicHealth has received almost $550,000 in the latest round of NHMRC Partnership Grants.

Project leader Dr Adrian Cameron from the Global Obesity Centre in Deakin’s Centre for Population Health Research (CHPR), will work with a number of independently owned IGA supermarkets to test how various interventions can change consumer food choices.

Unhealthy diets and obesity are now the two biggest contributors to Australia’s burden of disease and the role that supermarkets play in our food choices is increasingly under the spotlight.

In Australia, supermarkets account for 63 per cent of food and grocery spending, making their role in the food chain critical to public health.

Research has shown that the placement of products at checkouts and end-of-aisle displays, and the products promoted as “specials” in supermarket catalogues heavily influence the food choices we make, and not always in a healthy way.

However, the partnership team believes that these same marketing techniques can be used to encourage a more healthy diet.

“Marketing techniques involving manipulation of promotion, product, price and placement in the supermarket environment have the potential to improve the healthiness of consumer food purchases at a population level,” Dr Cameron said.

“However, at the moment there is limited evidence of the real world feasibility and impact of these types of interventions.

“Given that most Australian food purchases are made in supermarkets, this work has exceptional potential to improve the healthiness of food purchases and lower the risk of disease at the population level.”

Dr Cameron and his team will conduct a randomised controlled trial across ten IGA supermarkets in regional Victoria to test the effect on consumer food purchases of low cost and scalable interventions.

The interventions combine elements already proven in pilot testing to improve the healthiness of food choices.

They include shelf tags using the new Australian Health Star Rating scheme to promote the healthiest products; custom-developed signage in all trolleys and baskets promoting healthy eating; and the promotion of healthier products in end-of-aisle and island bin displays.

It is hoped the trial will prove a highly cost effective way of promoting healthy eating, and be good for the retailer.

“We are excited to see local supermarkets being proactive and positioning themselves as the champions of healthy eating, especially in disadvantaged areas with poor diet patterns”
Dr Adrian Cameron Project leader

“They can be a major part of the solution to the growing burden of diet-related disease.”

The NHMRC Partnership Grant extends the research team’s pilot trials funded by VicHealth and involved the same key players. The group received a VicHealth Award for Promoting Healthy Eating in 2016 and the Konrad Jamrozik Prize at the 2015 Population Health Congress.

Dr Cameron said the collaboration between retail, academic, local government and State Government partners was central to the success of the study.

“Both customers and store managers spoke highly of the changes during our pilot trials, with many customers saying they were pleased to see IGA doing something about Australia’s growing obesity problem.

“We are all excited about where this world-leading work might lead. We hope that, once it has been shown to be effective, we can encourage other supermarkets around the country to introduce similar measures to help people make healthier food choices.”

 

This article was published by Deakin Research on 6 February 2017.

Centre for Population Health Research

The Centre for Population Health Research (CPHR) contributes to health improvements for Australian and global populations through its extensive and diverse portfolio of research activities in public health, implementation, knowledge translation and advocacy, training and expert advisory services.