Understanding mealtime: are an individual’s attitudes to meal composition predictive of what they eat and is this an effective target for dietary advice?
Research Group: Applied, Social and Health Psychology
Proposed supervisory team: Dr Suzanna Forwood, ([Email Address Removed]) Dr Lee Smith ([Email Address Removed])
Theme: Food Choice
Summary of the research project:
A healthy diet is one that includes a balanced range of macro-nutrients: dietary guidelines encourage us to consume plenty of fruits, vegetables, starches, and wholegrains, sufficient low fat meats, fish, eggs, pulses, nuts and dairy and minimal amounts of processed foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt. Some individuals within the UK population do eat such a diet, though few meet all the dietary guidelines and as such most of the population eats a diet that fails to comply with these dietary guidelines, with measurable impact on their health and wellbeing.
This project is aiming to explore individual attitudes to meals that predict poorer dietary composition within the UK population. Meals are a cultural convention, and as such they follow culturally accepted social norms. These norms are a set of informal, maybe implicit rules or expectations that a social group follow when making decisions about what to eat at meals. Some may be national or international in use (meals involve a savoury collection of foods followed by a sweeter collection of foods), while others may be held by subsets of the population (meals must be hot food, or must include meat, a starch and a vegetable). After conducting a scoping review of the literature on meals to identify existing research on this topic, questionnaire and meal preference methodology will be used to elicit meal social norms within a national representative sample of the population. The project will evaluate how widely held meal social norms are and what demographic groups within the population hold the more common meal social norms.
Secondly the project will explore whether subscribing to each of the common social norms offers dietary advantages or disadvantages. For instance, do individuals who follow a norm of “meals must contain a vegetable” consume more vegetables than those who do not follow this norm.
Finally, the project will test a dietary intervention that seeks to promote meal social norm messages, and assess the extent to which these are associated with changes in dietary make-up. This final research will establish to what extent meal social norms have a causal impact on what is eaten and dietary composition, and therefore whether future interventions that promote meal-related social norms are a promising target for behaviour change interventions.
This is cross faculty, interdisciplinary project that will link closely to the Child and Family Health Behaviour Research Group.
Where you'll study: Cambridge
This project is self-funded. Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.
If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Psychology PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.