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Tips for adopting the diet of the future

Professor by special appointment Lea den Broeder: 'Where you are is what you eat'

23 Jan 2019 09:41 | Communication

If we want to continue to feed 10 billion people sustainably and healthily in 2050, then we will have to learn to adopt a radically different way of eating. This message from 37 renowned academics got tongues wagging last week. AUAS professor Lea den Broeder (Environment and Health research group) will study what it will take to change our dietary habits.

A poll of AUAS students confirmed that this is not yet an easy task. The poll, held on AUAS’ Facebook page, showed that a large majority of students say they would find it ‘quite a challenge’ to adopt a diet that contains hardly any sugars, fat or meat, and more vegetables, grains, nuts and fruit. 

Pitfall

This is quite understandable, according to professor Lea den Broeder. “It is hard to change if eating meat is the norm in your circles, if all your friends drink soft drinks and you are bombarded by unhealthy, non-sustainable options in shops, restaurants and on the streets!”

Changing behaviour is closely related to your social and physical environment, the health scientist from the AUAS' Professorship in Environment and Health says. “Where you are is what you eat. The biggest pitfall is to talk to people only in terms of their attitude. The question is, is the desired behaviour achievable?” In this respect, the high prices of meat substitutes are not a good development, Den Broeder says. Nor are the huge quantities of sugar the food industry puts in its products. "Of course, image also plays a role. For certain social groups, organic, vegetarian or vegan food are regarded as expensive and difficult to access."

Understanding

Another significant aspect of changing behaviour is whether people are actually able to change. “To facilitate different dietary patterns, you have to make it possible for people to find new information on alternative diets and food preparation, to help them understand this and apply it.”

As a member of a team of academics from the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), over the next two years Den Broeder will be researching exactly what is needed to achieve this and how we can make this huge transition. In the Shift-Diet project this team, led by Dr. Marga Ocké, will carry out surveys of the literature, as well as questionnaires and experiments. Den Broeder: "We hope that students from AUAS will also take part, for example through internships." 

Alongside her professorship by special appointment with AUAS, Den Broeder is also a senior researcher on Integrated Health Policy with the RIVM. In this role, she is closely involved in new government policy in relation to these themes.

Baby steps

Her key advice is above all to ask people what they think would be a good way of arriving at different eating habits and what they need to achieve this. “I predict that it will be a process of small steps. You will see a group that picks up on the trend pretty quickly and another group who is slower. But you also always have people who just won’t change. The first two groups are the most interesting in terms of successful government policy. The others we just have to let be.”