Wageningen campus - vacancy for 7 PhD positions

7 PhD positions on food environments & promoting healthy and sustainable diets

The consumption and healthy lifestyles group is a young and ambitious chair group keen to unravel the origins of healthy and sustainable consumption and lifestyle practices. These behavioural insights are used to design, evaluate and implement strategies to enable healthy and sustainable consumption. These strategies include upstream environmental and downstream behavioural interventions acknowledging that individual behaviour is socially embedded and arises in specific times and places.

The work of the group is characterized by an inter- and transdisciplinary approach where different academic disciplines (e.g., sociology, psychology, public health, epidemiology and geography) and professional fields (policy, practice) collaborate.

As a result of three major grants, we can appoint 7 PhD candidates with an interest in food environments and shifting diets in healthy and sustainable directions:

  1. Within the NWO funded project “Tipping the balance towards dietary change” 3 PhD candidates will be appointed that focus on design research for creating healthy and sustainable food environments (PhD1), behavioral aftereffects of environmental changes at individual level (PhD2) and emotional backlash towards and societal acceptance of plant based diets and healthy food environments (PhD3).
  2. Within the Regiodeal Foodvalley, 3 PhD candidates will be appointed that are interested in generating practice-based evidence for creating healthy and sustainable food environments in neighbourhoods (PhD4), workplaces (PhD5) and in health care institutions (PhD6).
  3. From the WUR Protein Transition program, PhD7 will supplement these projects by generating basic insights using data science and experimental studies exploring the gap between individual behavioral intentions and consumption patterns at an aggregated level.

Tipping the balance in dietary change: behavioural aftereffects of designing healthy and sustainable food environments

Shifting food consumption patterns towards plant-based diets can substantially promote personal, public and planetary health. Today’s food environment where unhealthy foods are abundantly available contributed to unhealthy and non-sustainable dietary patterns.

Consequently, changes in the food environment have been proposed to foster a transition in consumption. However, the interplay between changes in the food environment and responses to such system changes is currently not well understood. Changing one element in the food environment may affect other environmental features. For instance, a school may adopt a healthy school canteen approach, but success may be impeded if a snack food truck will be positioned in front of school.

Similarly, changes in food environments may affect decisions in that setting, but may be counteracted by other individual decisions. Introducing meat-free days at the workplace, for instance, may cause people to eat extra meat at home.

Such neutralizing effects may also be at play at a group level where consumption shifts in one group coincide with opposing shifts in other groups. Vegan consumption seems to spread rapidly in one network while other groups increasingly express their attachment to meat, making plant-based diets a contentious, emotionally charged societal subject.

This interdisciplinary program aims to co-create healthier and more sustainable food environments employing research-through-design approaches and unravel the complex network of aftereffects together with WUR, Waag, Reinwardt Academy Amsterdam University of Arts, BeBright, RIVM, Municipality Utrecht, Municipality Amersfoort and Province Utrecht.

PhD Project 1 Co-Design approaches for healthy and sustainable food environments

Local food environment factors such as food availability (e.g. the number and ‘mix’ of outlets to purchase food) have been associated with food consumption. Therefore, changes in the food environment have been proposed as a promising strategy to change peoples’ dietary consumption.

However, overall evidence remains mixed and more insight is needed on which changes in the food environment are effective and are likely to gain public acceptance. Changes in the environment can only be successful when all relevant stakeholders of the specific food environment (e.g. citizens, government, companies) are involved in the design process and their perception, needs and requirements are taken into consideration.

Therefore, this project aims to follow a design approach involving a wide range of stakeholders to create local bottom-up initiatives for a more healthy and sustainable local food environment.

Requirements:

  • completed a recent master’s degree related to health behavior change, food, environment and design: e.g. Health promotion, Industrial Design, Industrial Ecology, Environmental planning and design, Human Geography, Nutrition;
  • affinity or experience with living labs, stakeholder management, co-creation, participatory and co-design methodologies (e.g. photovoice, interactive apps, co-design workshops, context mapping);
  • excellent organisational, communication and social skills.

For more information about project 1, please contact: Dr. Monique Simons.

PhD project 2 Individual decision-making in shifting food environments

Most research addressing food choice in specific settings addresses single responses to single exposures to food cues, yet do not take into account that these single choices may also affect individual behavior at other occasions and at other settings. For instance, a worksite cafeteria that nudges employees towards plant-based meals may sell more of these meals and the nudge will be deemed effective. Yet, it remains unknown what the aftereffects of that nudge are when individuals make food decisions at a later moment in time or at another place.

This project aims to gain insight into the intra-individual variation in healthy and sustainable food decisions by studying the interrelatedness of food consumption choices within individuals across settings and time. Hereto observations in natural experiments and (location-based and time-based) ecological momentary assessments will take place.

Requirements:

  • completed a recent master’s degree (preferably a research master) in Psychology, Behavioural Economics, Consumer Studies, Nutrition or a related discipline;
  • background in quantitative research methods (e.g., Ecological Momentary Assessment, experimental research) and solid statistical skills (e.g., R);
  • proven affinity with scientific research in the domain of food and eating behaviour;
  • has excellent organizational and social skills.

For more information about project 1, please contact: Dr. Monique Simons.

PhD Project 3 Societal acceptance of plant based diets and healthy food environments

Eating customs are an important aspect of cultural identities and heritage and invested with notions of ownership and identity. Meat is an important element of current eating customs. A transition towards more plant based diets is necessary to achieve a transition towards healthier and more sustainable consumption patterns.

Currently, the acceptance of the push towards more plant based diets is highly fractured, with emotions sometimes running high and meat based eating customs proving sturdy.

The project provides more insight in the background of such emotions, as well as the potential for change. The study will use a range of qualitative research methods including a method developed in the field of critical Heritage Studies, called Emotion Networking.

Requirements:

  • completed master’s degree in Sociology, Anthropology, Heritage Studies, Consumer Studies, or a related discipline;
  • background in qualitative research methods, including interviews, observation and focus groups;
  • affinity with creative methods in research;
  • proven affinity with scientific research;
  • excellent organizational and social skills.

For more information about project 3: please contact Dr Hilje van der Horst.

Nutrition and health across the life span: healthy food choices in healthy environments (Regiodeal Food Valley)

Regio Deal Foodvalley is a multi-disciplinary collaboration between Wageningen University & Research Utrecht University, national and local governments, and entrepreneurs, aiming to boost transitions towards a healthy and sustainable food system.

One track of this programme focuses on nutrition and health across the life span, starting from early age to elderly. The track consists of six workpackages, including the workpackage “healthy food choices in healthy environments. In this workpackage, Wageningen University, Utrecht University, Ziekenhuis Gelderse Vallei, Gemeente Utrecht, Gemeente Ede, BeBright and other partners participate. The aim is to create a leading region where food environments are (co) created that invite healthy and sustainable food choices. The region will function as a living lab for pilots and experimentation to advance generic knowledge of food environments for healthy and sustainable diets of adults.

The workpackage focuses on neighborhoods, work-environments, and out-of-home settings were food consumption takes place (e.g., catering/hospitality industry). We will use insights and knowledge from different disciplinary fields, including social psychology and public health sciences, for the design and implementation of strategies aimed at promoting healthy and sustainable food behaviors in all layers of society. This provides a unique opportunity for a learning-by-doing approach to food environments.

The workpackage “healthy food choices in healthy environments” offers a total of 5 PhD positions, 3 of which at the Consumption and Healthy Lifestyles group at Wageningen University and 2 PhD positions at the department of Social, Health and Organizational Psychology at Utrecht University. Within this programme, we are looking for PhD students that have a knack for generating practice-based evidence and implementation research where combining theory and robust study design closely align with field work entailing setting up studies, collecting data, collaborating with different parties, and managing a project network. The PhD students are expected to collaborate closely. The positions at Utrecht University will be advertised separately.

PhD 4 Healthy and sustainable food-zones in regional neighborhoods 

The living environment steers food choices, e.g. via the type of food-outlets available or food marketing in public space. The Environment and Planning Act (Omgevingswet), likely to be implemented in 2021, provides an opportunity to improve the healthiness of the living environment.

Building upon insights from prior interventions, studies and projects, and in collaboration with residents and other relevant stakeholders, this project will assess the effectiveness of so-called ‘healthy and sustainable food-zones’ in neighborhoods in the Food valley region, using an integrated approach targeting healthy  and sustainable food availability and accessibility, nudging and food literacy.

Requirements:

  • completed a recent master’s degree (preferably a research master) in Public Health Nutrition, (Food) Policy and Governance, Environmental or Spatial Planning or a related discipline;
  • knowledge and experience in the area of planning, evaluation and implementation of food policies and interventions or on food-related behavioral decision making;
  • excellent organisational, communication and social skills illustrating a hands-on mind set;
  • strong affinity with trans- and interdisciplinary and field research;
  • fluent in Dutch (both spoken and written).

For more information about this project, please contact: Dr. Maartje Poelman.

PhD 5 Healthy and sustainable food environments in workplaces

Healthy food consumption is important to encourage sustainable employability. As a considerable amount of time is spent at work, this is an important setting of food consumption. Small to medium-sized businesses (SMB, up to 250 employees) not always have the opportunity to work with large caterers that can support in creating a healthy and sustainable food environment at the workplace.

Therefore, roadmaps are needed to support smaller businesses in creating supportive food environments. This research project will investigate how a healthy and sustainable food environment can be created at SMB.

The project aims to use a co-creation approach involving relevant stakeholders and SMB employers and employees. Both quantitative and qualitative studies will be conducted to gain insight in employers and employees support, requirements and needs with respect to a healthy food environment at the worksite. Moreover, an intervention- towards a healthy and sustainable food environment at SMBs will be developed and tested in a real-life experiment.

Requirements:

  • completed a recent master’s degree (preferably a research master) in Public Health Nutrition, (Food) Policy and Governance, Facility Management, Marketing or Consumer studies or a related discipline;
  • knowledge and experience in the area of food-related behavior change, behavioral intervention planning, evaluation or implementation, or food-related facility management is an advantage;
  • excellent organizational, communication and social skills illustrating a hands-on mind set;
  • strong affinity with trans- and interdisciplinary and field research;
  • fluent in Dutch (both spoken and written).

For more information about this project, please contact: Dr. Maartje Poelman.

PhD 6 Healthy food environments in hospitals and care-settings

It is well understood that a healthy diet supports human health, wellbeing and recovering after hospitalization. However, the food environment in hospitals/care-settings, like the assortment offered at for patients or visitors, not always support a healthy diet.

This research project will investigate different concepts  for creating healthy and sustainable food environments in hospitals and care-settings. Lessons learned at the Ziekenhuis Gelderse Vallei will be translated to innovative applications in other hospitals and care settings in co-creation with stakeholders. Real-life experiments will be conducted to evaluate the effectiveness and implementation of this intervention in hospital and care-setting to support healthy/sustainable food access and food choices in patients and visitors.

Requirements:

  • completed a recent master’s degree (preferably a research master) in Public Health Nutrition, (Food) Policy and Governance, Health Care or Facility Management, Food Design or a related discipline;
  • knowledge and experience in the area of food-related behavior change, behavioral intervention planning, evaluation or implementation, or food-related facility management is an advantage;
  • excellent organizational, communication and social skills illustrating a hands-on mind set;
  • strong affinity with trans- and interdisciplinary and field research;
  • fluent in Dutch (both spoken and written).

For more information about this project, please contact: Dr. Maartje Poelman.

Protein transition

Proteins form the building blocks of life on earth. Both the quantity and quality of food are critical for the health of humans and animals. At the moment, a considerable portion of our protein is consumed through animal products. With the world’s growing population and increasing prosperity, the demand for and ability to afford animal proteins is increasing. The production of animal proteins takes up a lot of space, of which we are running out.

Another issue is that the amount of animal protein we consume in the western world is often excessive and leads to obesity. That is why we need to move towards a more sustainable model of protein production and consumption.

A protein transition is required to shift consumption away from the consumption of animal proteins towards plant-based and new protein sources. Wageningen University & Research is looking for ways to increase the availability and diversity of proteins from the perspectives of various disciplines: food science, agricultural and production technology and consumer behaviour. Here you will find more detailed information on WUR and protein transition.

PhD 7 From good behavioral intentions to a population-level consumption shift

Despite a growing number of people reporting to eat a flexitarian diet and expressing a motivation to lower intake of animal-based protein, these good intentions are not reflected in actual consumption figure.

Consumption and sale figures show that meat purchase and consumption is rather stable during recent years, whereas some figures about specific market segments (e.g., meat replacements) or retail data suggest increases in meat consumption as well as increases in meat replacing products. Different sources thus provide contradictory signals of the required consumption shift needed for a protein transition.

This PhD project aims to unravel why and for whom consumer-reported behavior changes do not align with (aggregated) consumption data. These insights are needed to draw valid and reliable conclusions about the state of a consumption shift, and to develop adequate methods for evaluating efforts to shift consumption at the population level.

The PhD candidate will combine data science and data mining approaches for hypothesis generation, which will be further explored in behavioral experiments. This project is a collaboration between different departments at Wageningen University: The division of human nutrition and health at the Agricultural and Food Science Group and the Consumption and healthy lifestyles chair at the Social Sciences Group.

Requirements:

  • completed a recent master’s degree (preferably a research master) in Data Science, Food informatics, Behavioral Science (Psychology, Consumer studies, Behavioral Economics) or Nutrition;
  • solid background in quantitative research methods;
  • proven experience with complex data analyses and modeling;
  • familiar with relevant statistical and programming software;
  • proven affinity with scientific research in the domain of food and eating behaviour.

For more information about this project, please contact: Dr. Maartje Poelman.

General requirements and information for applications

For more general information about these projects, please contact the principal investigator on the projects:  Prof. dr. Emely de Vet. For specifics on individual PhD positions, please consult the reference person mentioned with the position.

For more information about the procedure, please contact our recruitment department of the Social Science Group via e-mail.

For all PhD positions, we expect the candidate to:

  • be willing to learn and think across disciplines and professions;
  • be able to communicate with fellow researchers, other stakeholders, and societal partners;
  • be collaborative and a real team player;
  • have excellent Dutch as well as English academic writing and presentation skills (Knowledge of the Dutch language is obligatory for projects 1 to 6)

Do you want to apply?

This can be done directly via the application button at the vacancy on our website so that we can process your personal data with your permission. Only applications received via our website are taken into consideration.

This vacancy is open up to and including the 18th of June, 2020. We want to plan the first online job interviews on the 26th and 30th of June, 2020. A possible second job interview will take place on the 10th or 15th of July, 2020.

In order to apply, please upload:

  • a motivation letter;
  • your cv, with names of 2 references.
  • in addition, you are asked to submit a short plan of 250 words (which we call an abstract) of a study you would like to conduct in the study which could include research question or hypotheses and research methods (participants, design, measures, analyses).

Please apply for the specific project(s) of your preferences. You are allowed to apply for more than 1 project. If you wish to do so, please submit separate motivation letters and separate abstracts for the projects you want to apply for.

Please submit your application according to the following format:

  • Curriculum vitae/ resume, file name: PhD <nr of position(s)> CV <last name> <first name>
  • Covering letter with your motivation: PhD <nr of position(s)> letter <last name> <first name>
Apply now