Dr. Emely de Vet, associate professor at the Strategic Communication Group, has been awarded a VIDI grant by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) for her proposal ‘How to navigate a tempting food environment: from explicit directions to hidden cues’. Vidi grants are awarded to excellent researchers with several years of successful research experience and can be used to set up a new research group.
The rich availability of unhealthy food in the environment is often held responsible for the current obesity epidemic. However, what makes food availability detrimental to diet and weight is unclear. The dominant view is that available unhealthy foods lead to overeating because foods are salient and easy to obtain. Current practice strongly builds on that idea by restricting access to these foods. Yet, evidence for this notion is weak.
In the VIDI project a novel view on food availability is proposed, namely that it is not just salience or effort that makes us mindlessly eat whatever is within reach, but also the normative messages that are implicitly conveyed by and in connection with available food. For instance, placement of unhealthy foods in close vicinity may be interpreted in terms of effort or salience, but they may also implicitly convey the message that eating them is appropriate. Arrangements in the food environment communicate implicit messages about what is considered acceptable or even normal. Such 'accidental' normative cues surrounding foods may inadvertently spur unhealthy eating mindlessly. Yet, awareness and understanding of implicit normative cues can help to avoid unhealthy prompts and to develop solutions for eating healthier. Lab and field experiments combined with innovative technologies for observation in naturalistic settings will improve understanding of how the food environment affects eating, but will also contribute to the development of evidence-based intervention strategies to ameliorate the impact of tempting foods in the environment.
About Emely de Vet
Emely de Vet is interested in understanding why people engage in unhealthy practices and how intervention strategies can be adapted to these reasons in order to promote healthy behaviors. She applies perspectives from social, consumer and health psychology in the development and evaluation of health communication and public health interventions.