This month, we are pleased to see the publication of a paper that Nutrilicious were commissioned to create. While our nutrition and science team at Nutrilicious strongly believes that we must now update the Eatwell Guide we also believe that more focus must be given to communications of the Eatwell Guide. The new rapid review explores communications around food based dietary guidelines (FBDG), including the Eatwell Guide.  The paper has been published in the journal sustainability , authored by Amy E Culliford, Jane Bradbury and Elphee B. Medici. As a nutrition and sustainable diets communications consultant at Nutrilicious, Elphee was part of the core research team for this project.

Improving Communication of the UK Sustainable Healthy Dietary Guidelines the Eatwell Guide: A Rapid Review

Background

In the UK, FBDG are reflected by the Eatwell Guide, developed by Public Health England (PHE), last updated in 2016. The Eatwell Guide replaced the Eatwell Plate and continues to define the government’s advice on a healthy balanced diet.  The visual guide provides a representation of healthy eating by splitting the food we eat into five food groups and shows how much an individual should eat from each group. The supporting guides that can be found on the government’s website include A colour Eatwell Guide PDF, Government dietary recommendations, The Eatwell Guide Booklet and A quick guide to the government’s healthy eating recommendations

Currently, only 0.1% of the UK population are meeting all nine recommendations provided by the Eatwell GuideImproving adherence is of upmost importance not only to improving health and reducing rates of non-communicable disease in the UK but also to supporting a reduction in the environmental impact of what we are eating, to help meet the UK’s targets in reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe) by 68% by 2023, compared to 1990 levels.

The Findings

Key themes were pulled out as part of the review as being significant in effective communication of FBDG. The following five recommendations were made, with the aim of helping to improve adherence to the Eatwell Guide:

(1) Review of language and tone of nutrition and sustainability related messages

Short, simple, specific and easy to understand communications should be utilised, using an empathetic and empowering tone. Specific messages relating to sustainable diets should be recommended and incorporated into guidelines offering benefits for the people and the planet.

(2) Targeting of FBDG and communications to specific population segments

Communication needs to be tailored and appeal to different population groups including age, gender, cultural background and motivation style. Further research is warranted to explore factors which influence food choices within specific target population segments.

(3) Addressing barriers to and benefits of adopting the Eatwell Guide recommendations

Barriers need to be addressed to guide in effective communications. Barriers identified included taste preferences, cost, time and habits.

(4) Development of practical tools and resources to support implementation of the guidelines

Compared to other countries’ FBDG communication strategies, the UK is currently lacking in producing supporting resources to assist in the implementation of the Eatwell Guide. For example, portion size guidance for various population groups, healthier and tasty substitutions for unhealthy and/or unsustainable foods would be beneficial and also recipes and practical approaches to meeting FBDG.

(5) Leveraging social media and social marketing techniques to increase public engagement

Social media and the internet are a key target area to communicate to individuals.  The digital space should be utilised to form a key part of the Eatwell Guide communication strategy, alongside traditional media.

As can be seen, multiple elements need to be considered when communicating the Eatwell Guide to the public, health professionals and other stakeholders.

Moving On

The review provides such valuable lessons into the effective use of FBDG, including what has been working well globally. Research findings from this new rapid review can help to drive better and more effective communication strategies in order to promote sustainable healthy eating guidelines. Policy makers, the food industry and health professionals should use this to drive dietary behaviour change. The authors conclude that further research is needed in this area, with a particular focus on ‘research into the motivations, perceived barriers and preferred communication style for target population groups and a more detailed analysis of social marketing and industry strategies which could be adapted to promote sustainable healthy diets.’

“Healthy eating guidance including the Eatwell Guide need to be brought to life through a strategic and creative marketing strategy designed to resonate with different population groups and on a level similar to how food marketing is successfully done. Government needs to go beyond current guidelines and campaigns and embed this into an always-on public health strategy to make this happen. Those involved in such a strategy would benefit from the learnings in this paper” – Tanya Haffner, Registered Dietitian, CEO Nutrilicious

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