A perspective on the strategic approach to the complexity and challenges of behaviour change in relation to dietary health

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Abstract

Understanding the drivers for improving Scotland's dietary health is one of the key objectives within the ‘Food, Land and People’ component of the Scottish Government's Strategic Research Programme (SRP). Food producer, processor, retailer and consumer behaviour relative to diet and health are investigated through the programme's ‘Healthy Safe Diets’ theme. The research recognizes both the importance of food to Scotland's economy, health and wellbeing, as well as the challenges faced by the burden of obesity and dietary-related illness. The Healthy Safe Diets theme's analysis of diet and behaviour has a focus on the interplay of the social, biological, behavioural and environmental determinants of nutritional health and aims to develop and test prototype policy interventions relevant to improving the health of Scotland's population. Here, we argue the necessity for concerted and coordinated multidisciplinary approaches to understand and influence dietary behaviour within the changing technological, economic, social and cultural context of individuals within society. The SRP's structure encourages and is developing such interdisciplinary links. Inherent to this is the combining of qualitative and quantitative approaches; using the insights gained from in depth study of small numbers of people, both to provide a better understanding of the results of quantitative analysis and to inform new research questions. Placed in context with the SRP's wider research objectives (such as on physical activity, the role of ‘urban green space’, enhancing the health-beneficial properties of foods and the environmental sustainability of food production and supply), SRP interconnection offers significant opportunity to develop synergies and reconcile conflicts between research areas to create cohesive policy advice and enhance health and wellbeing outcomes.

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