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Dec 8, 2016 | by Centre

What can wellbeing tell us about food safety?

Before diving into the great blog below, why not read our latest review of evidence of what works with music and singing for people with diagnosed conditions or dementia?

It’s a follow-up to our review last month of what works for healthy adults.

Just go to Music, singing and wellbeing page to read more.

This month we’ll likely be tucking into festive foods, and spending time with loved ones. (Or avoiding everyone and everything!) Here, we have a guest blog about the relationship between food and wellbeing from Charlotte Owen, researcher at the Food Standards Agency – and former researcher Edward Eaton – responsible for managing the FSA’s flagship biennial consumer survey, Food and You.

As a founding partner of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is interested in the concept of wellbeing and how it can help the FSA in its work to protect consumers and represent their interests. As a result, the FSA introduced four ONS-harmonised measures of wellbeing in its flagship consumer survey, Food and You, which was conducted in 2014. These measures take the form of a 0-10 point scale, with questions about life satisfaction, life being worthwhile, happiness, and anxiety.

We looked at how wellbeing relates to one of the FSA’s key priorities: domestic food safety. As far as we were aware, no studies to date had looked at the issue of wellbeing in relation to food safety. However, there was evidence linking eudemonic wellbeing (relating to the sense of engagement and life fulfilment) with health-promoting activities, such as the consumption of fruit and vegetables, physical activity, and taking up health advice.

Associations have also been found with pro-social behaviour. The research team thought that food safety (in terms of the impact it has on one’s own health, and the health of others who you cook or prepare food for) could potentially be related to wellbeing in either of these ways.

To measure food safety, the FSA developed a composite measure called the Index of Recommended Practice (IRP). This takes answers to multiple questions in the Food and You survey relating to domestic food safety behaviour, and assigns respondents a score from 0 (no answers in line with Agency recommendations) to 100 (all answers in line with recommendations).

Comparing IRP score to the four ONS wellbeing indicators, we found a weak, but statistically significant positive correlation with life being worthwhile, and life satisfaction. No association was found for the ‘hedonic’ measures of happiness and anxiety. We then grouped raw 0-10 responses to the four wellbeing measures into three categories, low, medium and high, which we used to look at IRP score.

Figure 1: Mean IRP score for low, medium and high categories of wellbeing


As Figure 1 shows, people who reported medium and high levels of life satisfaction and life being worthwhile were more likely to report food safety practices in line with FSA guidance, compared to those at the lower level of wellbeing. This seemed to support our initial hypothesis that food safety could be related to the ‘eudemonic’ aspects of wellbeing. In order to investigate this further, we carried out regression analysis on the life satisfaction and life being worthwhile aspects of wellbeing, controlling for other variables, including demographic/socio-economic variables, food safety attitudes, and social relationships.

We found that even after controlling for these variables, people reporting high levels of life satisfaction still had a significantly higher (1.9 points) IRP score than those reporting low levels. The same pattern was found for life being worthwhile, with a difference of 2.7 points.

In addition to these analyses, we also looked at whether particular aspects of wellbeing were associated with certain food safety-related behaviours. While the full details are available in the report, there were some interesting findings.

For example, those reporting medium or high anxiety levels were significantly more likely to report eating leftovers within a day or two of first cooking them, as well as making sure to cook food to steaming hot throughout. Life being worthwhile was also found to be positively associated with reporting recommended practice for activities such as washing hands before and after preparing food, and checking use-by dates on food before cooking.

Overall, these findings seem to suggest that wellbeing does indeed have a potential role in helping the Agency plan and evaluate its work around food safety, particularly in relation to the eudemonic aspects of wellbeing. It is difficult to determine the precise nature of the relationship between wellbeing and food safety, including the ways in which the relationship might be mediated through other factors, and the direction of causation. For example, does eudemonic wellbeing result in greater care around food safety, or is it the reverse? Or might there some other confounding variable that we did not control for in our analysis? As always, further research (including that of a longitudinal, or a qualitative nature), may help us narrow down the answers to some of these kinds of questions.

Special thanks go to the project team responsible for the paper: Caireen Roberts, Klaudia Lubian and Sally McManus (NatCen Social Research) and Liza Draper and Angela Clow (University of Westminster).


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