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Lipgene

Past Events

London December 2006
Consumer Sciences workshop: The metabolic syndrome: the public's perspective. Report from workshop 2

The second of two workshops to explore the findings from research into the views of consumers around the metabolic syndrome and its perceived health risks was held in London. The research is being led by Professor Maria Daniel Vaz de Almeida of the University of Porto, Portugal and Dr Barbara Stewart of the University of Ulster.

Amongst the issues discussed at the workshop were:

  • Factors influencing food choice and food related behaviour (What influences food choice; speaker presentation).
  • An example of a successful population-based family –orientated nutrition and lifestyle education programme in France, EPODE (See EPODE - Together we can prevent childhood obesity.pdf 2MB download, speaker presentation or http://www.epode.fr; programme website).
  • Results from a Eurobarometer survey commissioned by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and DG Sanco into consumer’s perception of health risks, in particular to food safety (Risk perception and food safety.pdf 1.1MB download, speaker presentation).
  • Preliminary Findings from Lipgene (see below).
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Preliminary Findings from Lipgene

Some of the preliminary findings from the consumer science work-package of the Lipgene project were presented. These included consumer's views of:

  • the risks of the metabolic syndrome
  • the risks and benefits of using new agro-food technologies to produce foods
  • the potential option of personalised nutrition advice geared to an individual's genetic make-up.

The research is taking a two staged approach: qualitative research has been undertaken with consumers and stakeholders (e.g. health professionals and the food industry) in Portugal and Northern Ireland.  The themes arising from the qualitative research were used to inform the hypothesis of a 6 countries quantitative study which was conducted by MORI in France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Poland and Portugal in 2005. This omnibus survey examined level of awareness and acceptance of the metabolic syndrome and the agro-food technologies that may provide an option for tackling its rising prevalence, including personalized nutrition.

A paper outlining the methodology was used to develop the questionnaire used in the quantitative research and some early findings from the survey have also been published (de Almeida et al 2006).
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Consumer Perspectives – Qualitative Research with Stakeholders

During the workshop, Heather Parr from the University of Ulster, UK, focused her presentation on the themes arising from a parallel consultation with various stakeholders in Northern Ireland and Portugal.

Awareness of Metabolic Syndrome is very low, which immediately identifies an area where public health activities need to be focused. Unsurprisingly, consumers are ill informed about GM foods and the concept of functional food is not recognised. To support the findings of the quantitative survey, functional genomics and personalised nutrition was widely welcomed by stakeholders and the majority (80%) of respondents claimed they would choose functional food over pills to address specific health concern. (see Consumer perspectives - qualitative findings.pdf, 1MB download, speaker presentation)
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Six Countries Study

During the workshop, Professor Maria Daniel vaz de Almeida of the University of Porto, Portugal, presented an overview of the findings from the 6 countries study. Professor de Almeida concluded that European consumers are aware of diet-related diseases and associated risks; want health benefits from their foods; would accept genetic testing to know their disease risk and to have a diet tailored to their needs; and would accept GM foods if they provide health benefits. (see Findings from the 6 countries study.pdf, 1.9Mb download, speaker Presentation).

Professor de Almeida also presented some of the more specific findings from the 6 countries study. In particular, she identified sub-sections of the population where differences in opinion or attitude lie.  This will be of great use when planning future public health strategies.
In the group questioned it was the younger, more educated people with metabolic syndrome who were more likely to consume functional foods. The most striking differences were in the opinions of metabolic syndrome sufferers and healthy individuals. These two groups have very different attitudes to functional foods as well as identifying different health benefits from foods that must be taken into consideration when developing new products. (see Health benefits of functional foods.pdf, 1.3MB speaker presentation)
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Psychological Factors

Dr Barbara Stewart-Knox from the University of Ulster, UK, described psychological determinants that appear to modify an individual's risk of developing the metabolic syndrome. She described four societal segments that report various degrees of metabolic syndrome, which are demographically distinct, have different lifestyles, life experiences and a propensity for psychological well-being.

Those classified as 'metabolic syndrome' sufferers tended to be more inactive (especially on weekdays), had experienced negative life events (especially bereavement) and were less resilient than those classified as 'normal'. These groups could be assumed to have different health intervention requirements. (see Psychological factors.pdf, 1MB download, speaker presentation)
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Conclusion

Findings from the Lipgene research about the public's awareness of the metabolic syndrome and its risk factors will provide an important insight into how we can encourage people to take responsibility for their health and diet. Our food choice is influenced by a number of issues including the potential health consequences of our diet. Ethical issues about where our food has come from are also important to some consumers, and therefore investigating whether foods produced as a result of new technologies will be acceptable to consumers will be an important outcome of the Lipgene project.

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