Sustenance, status and sustainability


This research theme brings together health scientists, psychologists, and computer scientists to investigate consumer beliefs and values, particularly why population groups make different food choices. This research aims to assess whether modifying social norms and behaviour can alter consumer practice in specific social groups. Practical applications and interventions will be co-designed with groups of consumers to improve heath literacy and create behaviour change to improve health and wellbeing and to raise awareness of issues such as the sustainability of key ingredients and food waste.

Summary of Objectives

In this theme, our research focuses on resilience to consumerism and over-consumption. Emerging theory suggests that consumerism and associated poor food-related behaviour is substantially intensified by greater social and economic inequality. The serious public health and environmental risks of apparently unstoppable over-consumption, and its concomitant waste, which brings with it little evidence of improvement in wellbeing, will be examined in the context of global food security.

  1. We will determine whether income inequality within developed societies is linked to greater overconsumption, consumerism, waste and other characteristics of unsustainable food economies, and whether concern for social rank/status competition is a key pathway between inequality and unsustainable versus resilient food behaviours and economies
  2. We will identify underlying emotional responses to inequality/status competition that might trigger risky or resilient food-related behaviour and consumption patterns, uncover psychological processes that underlie consumer decision making in specific social groups, and demonstrate how explicitly and implicitly modifying social norms and marketing imagery influences behaviour and ultimately alters consumer practice
  3. We will develop and evaluate mobile and ubiquitous technologies to support consumers to make sustainable food choices that promote wellbeing for both people and planet.

Research Methods

Epidemiological studies of ‘pressure to consume’ will include comparisons of different countries, and in-depth studies within the UK.  We will use targeted experimental and observational methods to analyse individual aspects of consumer psychology and behaviour. Qualitative approaches will be used to ascertain core underlying beliefs and how they influence attitudes to consumption. The cognitive processes underpinning the understanding of marketing imagery and imagery promoting sustainable health will be examined. With this knowledge, we will work with a diverse range of consumers using participatory co-design methods to develop technologies to promote decision-making of an acceptable, safe and nutritious diet for all. We will use an iterative user-centred design lifecycle for the development of at least one technology system for the home environment and one for the shopping environment, which can be evaluated in a large field trial.

Planned Outcomes

We will produce reviews, commentaries and toolkits that bring our work together to create a holistic evidence base for policy-makers and industry on interventions that can facilitate a food system that delivers for both health and sustainability. We will engage with end users to create applications and interventions to increase population resilience through improved health literacy, producing tools to influence the behaviour of consumers to help move the food system towards improved health, wellbeing and environmental outcomes, and mitigation of potential risks. We will create demonstrator technologies to help individuals make better choices for health and sustainability as well as guidelines for future developers of such technologies.

Meet the team