The Behaviour and Health Research Unit (BHRU) is funded by the UK Department of Health to contribute evidence to national and international efforts to achieve sustained behaviour change to improve health outcomes and reduce health inequalities. We develop evidence on effective ways of changing four sets of behaviour – smoking, excessive consumption of food and alcohol, and physical inactivity.
A recent review on portion, package or tableware size, published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, has generated the most conclusive evidence to date that people consistently consume more food and drink when offered larger-sized portions, packages or tableware (Hollands G, Cochrane Reviews 2015). The size of effect suggests that if sustained reductions in exposure to large sizes can be achieved across the whole diet this could reduce energy consumed each day by up to 16% among UK adults. Within a week of publication the Altmetric for this review placed it in the top 0.1% of all Cochrane Reviews (#3 of 6976), of all articles of a similar age and of all articles ever tracked. This review is informing current policy-making on obesity.
Why don’t poor men eat more fruit?
Building on an earlier study of the food purchases of 25,000 British households, the Unit conducted a study to understand more about why, compared with less deprived households, those in more deprived households purchase a larger proportion of energy from less healthy foods and drinks and a smaller proportion from healthier foods and drinks. Focusing on fruit, there were no differences in self-reported liking but men from more deprived groups had a lower implicit (nonconscious) liking of fruit (Pechey, R Appetite, 2015). This suggests that interventions that increase availability or reduce the price of fruit will be unlikely to increase consumption in this group.
Evidence Matters for Public Acceptability
Public acceptability influences policy action, but the most acceptable policies are not always the most effective. A discrete choice experiment was conducted to investigate the acceptability of different interventions to reduce alcohol consumption (increased price, reduced availability and advertising) and the effect of providing information on expected effectiveness (in reducing crimes and hospital admissions), using a UK general population sample of 1202 adults. Providing information on expected effectiveness increased acceptability (Pechey, R., Soc Sci Med 2014). Policy-makers struggling to mobilise support for hitherto unpopular but promising policies should consider giving greater prominence to their expected outcomes.