EUPHA stands for the European Public Health Association. The organisation was set up in the early 1990s, when various health organisations began to think in a European manner. It is a confederation of national public health societies, associations, faculties, etc., active in different EU member states as well as outside the EU. In fact, every member of a national member association of EUPHA is automatically a member of EUPHA itself. The organisation is divided into special interest sections, of which the Food and Nutrition Section is one. EUPHA has four main objectives which reflect the types of work the members are doing, namely: research, practice, education and advocacy. It aims to reach the ordinary public health practitioners throughout Europe, who demonstrate an enormously diverse pattern of public health service. Public health services are very well organised and strong in some countries (e.g. Scandinavian countries and UK), while hardly any public health service exists in others (e.g. Austria).
What’s your organisations’ interest in JPI HDHL?
Of the four areas of interest of EUPHA, research is by far the strongest, hence, there is a strong interest in being involved with, and supporting public health research across Europe. JPI HDHL is doubly relevant for the Food and Nutrition Section of EUPHA because of the subjects of the JPIs. So our Section was asked by EUPHA headquarters to lead in this involvement. We obviously support the principle of the JPIs very strongly, although we were astonished at the relative lack of public health involvement in the planning of the whole thing in the first place.
Take DEDIPAC for example. DEDIPAC was supposed to investigate the determinants of food choices. However, the consumers’ food choices are largely determined by the supply side (the availability of food, what is growing, what is produced, its price, etc.), which is in turn strongly influenced by EU policies (on Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), etc.). So, when investigating the determinants of food choices, most of these are not on the demand side but on the supply side, because the choices on the demand side are in fact the outcome of the supply side. For example, obesity, which we know is so closely related to fast food. Have you thought of why there are so many burger bars with burgers that are made from saturated fat-rich beef? That’s because the CAP still subsidises beef farming to an incredible degree. With that amount of subsidy, it is not surprising that there is so much cheap beef to get rid of. And that is the environment within which people have to make their food choices. So, to ask people questions on how they make their food choices, without going into the background of why the food environment is what it is, well that is failure to realise the extent to which this is biased by subsidies, etc. I personally support strongly the work of the JPIs FACCE, OCEANS and HDHL coming together because, in my view, we need a research infrastructure which enables and supports food and nutrition related research from field (and from the seas) to fork, and in a multidisciplinary way (agricultural sciences, social sciences, natural sciences, …).
How does your organisation see the collaboration between itself and JPI HDHL / What can JPI HDHL do for your organisation?
If the JPI would have more public health-oriented research, we would certainly encourage our members to get involved in it. The current research interests of JPI HDHL are not really relevant to public health organisations at present. I don’t mean to say that we are not interested in research into the microbiome for example, it is very important, but it is not something our members would particularly want to or should get involved in. But we would love to become more actively involved in the JPI research area if it would be in the context of the major public health areas of policy decisions in the area of food and nutrition.
As a European organisation that wants to promote research involving members across Europe, European union funds are generally the first thing we think about. Within public health, collaboration with the industry has been a very difficult issue. In my department in Liverpool for example, it is completely forbidden to have any connection with the industry. However, in the end there has to be communication between industry and researchers. This is an interesting and difficult task that is being addressed within JPI HDHL.
Who is the person behind the SHAB member?
I have been involved in three European-wide public health organisations. I have been on the Council of ASPHER (Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region) and I have been Vice-President of EPHA (European Public Health Alliance). When EUPHA decided to set up different sections, and was setting up a Food and Nutrition Section, I started to become increasingly involved because of my interest in cardiovascular epidemiology and prevention. I realised that diet and nutrition were the most important determinants of cardiovascular health, and that almost everything to do with nutrition is determined by European Union policies, rather than at member state level. So I started to become increasingly interested in European level public health. After a time, I was elected to the committee of EUPHA Section on Food and Nutrition, and eventually I was asked to become its President, which I have been for eight years now.
What does a healthy diet for a healthy life mean to me?
First of all, that summarises my professional life really above anything else. I see the diet-related determinants of health as being very wide. But obviously, I am particularly interested in what people eat. Beyond avoiding malnutrition in a persons’ diet, I suppose there are two main priorities; one is obviously the question of calories and obesity, which is of course also (but not only) sugar-related. And then there is the question of the fats that we eat. If we can get people to eat more vegetable-protein and less animal-protein, that would mean that the associated fats are less oriented towards saturated fats, and this would not only benefit planetary health but also human health. There are also other issues in diet; we should also consider the shortage of trace elements in some people’s diets, and the need for dietary fibre, for example. To come back to the question, I see my principle interest as being about helping Europe to move towards a healthier diet. I think we have to start by looking at the food we produce, and working out whether it is conducive to sustainable healthy nutrition, thinking about planetary health and human health. And obviously, it is not at the moment. Big change is needed, and if we can get food production right, then we can think further down the food chain about how to get people to make healthy choices.