Dr Charo Hodgkins
Charo started her career with GlaxoSmithkline as a development chemist and then moved to Superdrug Stores PLC as Head of Technical Services. During her 14 years in industry, she gained extensive experience of managing technical and research projects within both branded and retail environments. In 2003, after a short career break to start a family she joined the Food, Consumer Behaviour and Health Research Centre (FCBH) at the University of Surrey. She has been active in a number of UK and EU funded research projects in the area of food, consumer behaviour and public health. She has a keen interest in the communication of health information on foods i.e. nutrition labelling and health claims this being the focus of her PhD thesis, more recently she is involved in exploring the design and delivery of interventions and m-health solutions to improve quality of life and to promote self-management of illness and/or healthier lifestyles.
The focus of my research as part of the FCBH team, is to explore the impact of health-related information provision on consumer understanding. I have experience of conducting research employing both qualitative and quantitative methods. Whilst my main focus has been on nutrition information and health claims, more broadly, I am interested in all aspects of health and wellbeing and in the design and implementation of interventions that may be used to improve quality of life and to promote self-management of illness and/or healthier lifestyles.
Sweeteners and sweetness enhancers: Impact on health, obesity, safety and sustainability: 2018-2023, Funder: EU H2020
Background Traffic light labelling of foods?a system that incorporates a colour-coded assessment of the level of total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt on the front of packaged foods?has been recommended by the UK Government and is currently in use or being phased in by many UK manufacturers and retailers. This paper describes a protocol for a pilot randomised controlled trial of an intervention designed to increase the use of traffic light labelling during real-life food purchase decisions.
Methods/design The objectives of this two-arm randomised controlled pilot trial are to assess recruitment, retention and data completion rates, to generate potential effect size estimates to inform sample size calculations for the main trial and to assess the feasibility of conducting such a trial. Participants will be recruited by email from a loyalty card database of a UK supermarket chain. Eligible participants will be over 18 and regular shoppers who frequently purchase ready meals or pizzas. The intervention is informed by a review of previous interventions encouraging the use of nutrition labelling and the broader behaviour change literature. It is designed to impact on mechanisms affecting belief and behavioural intention formation as well as those associated with planning and goal setting and the adoption and maintenance of the behaviour of interest, namely traffic light label use during purchases of ready meals and pizzas. Data will be collected using electronic sales data via supermarket loyalty cards and web-based questionnaires and will be used to estimate the effect of the intervention on the nutrition profile of purchased ready meals and pizzas and the behavioural mechanisms associated with label use. Data collection will take place over 48 weeks. A process evaluation including semi-structured interviews and web analytics will be conducted to assess feasibility of a full trial.
Discussion The design of the pilot trial allows for efficient recruitment and data collection. The intervention could be generalised to a wider population if shown to be feasible in the main trial.
Trial registration ISRCTN: ISRCTN19316955 webcite
Background: Colour coded front-of-pack nutrition labelling (?traffic light labelling?) has been recommended for use
in the UK since 2006. The voluntary scheme is used by all the major retailers and some manufacturers. It is not clear
how consumers use these labels to make a single decision about the relative healthiness of foods. Our research
questions were: Which of the four nutrients on UK traffic light labels (total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt) has
the most influence on decisions? Do green lights or red lights have a greater influence? Are there age and gender
differences in how people use the colour and nutrient information?
Methods: We recruited participants from a UK supermarket chain membership list to conduct an online choice
experiment in May 2014. We analysed data using multilevel logisitic models with food choices (n = 3321) nested
in individuals (n = 187) as the unit of analysis.
Results: A food with more reds was 11.4 (95 % confidence intervals: 10.3, 12.5) times less likely to be chosen as
healthy, whereas a food with more greens was 6.1 (5.6, 6.6) times more likely to be chosen as healthy. Foods with
better colours on saturated fat and salt were 7.3 (6.7, 8.0) and 7.1 (6.5, 7.8) times more likely to be chosen as
healthy ? significantly greater than for total fat (odds ratio 4.8 (4.4, 5.3)) and sugar (5.2 (4.7, 5.6)). Results were
broadly similar for different genders and age groups.
Conclusions: We found that participants were more concerned with avoiding reds than choosing greens, and
that saturated fat and salt had a greater influence on decisions regarding healthiness than total fat and sugar.
This could influence decisions about food reformulation and guidance on using nutrition labelling.
The popularity of botanical products is on the rise in Europe, with consumers using them to complement their diets or to maintain health, and products are taken in many different forms (e.g. teas, juices, herbal medicinal products, plant food supplements (PFS)). However there is a scarcity of data on the usage of such products at European level.
To provide an overview of the characteristics and usage patterns of PFS consumers in six European countries.
Data on PFS usage were collected in a cross-sectional, retrospective survey of PFS consumers using a bespoke frequency of PFS usage questionnaire.
A total sample of 2359 adult PFS consumers from Finland, Germany, Italy, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom.
Descriptive analyses were conducted, with all data stratified by gender, age, and country. Absolute frequencies, percentages and 95% confidence intervals are reported.
Overall, an estimated 18.8% of screened survey respondents used at least one PFS. Characteristics of PFS consumers included being older, well-educated, never having smoked and self-reporting health status as ?good or very good?. Across countries, 491 different botanicals were identified in the PFS products used, with Ginkgo biloba (Ginkgo), Oenothera biennis (Evening primrose) and Cynara scolymus (Artichoke) being most frequently reported; the most popular dose forms were capsules and pills/tablets. Most consumers used one product and half of all users took single-botanical products. Some results varied across countries.
The PlantLIBRA consumer survey is unique in reporting on usage patterns of PFS consumers in six European countries. The survey highlights the complexity of measuring the intake of such products, particularly at pan-European level. Incorporating measures of the intake of botanicals in national dietary surveys would provide much-needed data for comprehensive risk and benefit assessments at the European level.
While functional foods offer promise for public health and innovation in the food industry, the efficiency of such foods should be assured to protect consumers from misleading claims. Globally, many countries regulate the communication of the health effects of such foods to final consumers.
Scope and approach:
In the European Union (EU), the use of health claims was harmonized in 2006. All claims need to be scientifically assessed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and pre-approved. Implementing the regulation has involved a steep learning curve for stakeholders, resulting in many health claims being rejected. The EU-funded REDICLAIM project used existing guidance documents, analyses of Scientific Opinions on new health claim applications, and a series of interviews with experts involved in such applications to identify key points in the process of authorizing new health claims.
Key findings and conclusions:
Recommendations for the successful substantiation of new health claims in the EU were prepared. The substantiation of health claims is primarily based on human efficacy studies, and greater resources are required to authorize more innovative claims. The reported recommendations should be seen as a starting point for researchers in the area of nutrition and food technology, and for those dealing with functional foods, including the food industry.
Method: The potential for more effective approaches to the transfer of food composition data on processed foods, was explored via a survey conducted within the UK food industry (Study 1). To facilitate the development of a consumer derived typology of FOP nutrition labelling schemes in Europe, a free-sorting study utilising the ?Multiple Sort Procedure? (MSP) was performed in four countries; France, Poland, Turkey and the United Kingdom (Study 2). Building on the MSP methodology utilised in Study 2, a further study on nutrition and health claims was performed in five countries; Germany, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom. (Study 3). The final study in this thesis sought to quantify the extent to which consumer perceptions of healthiness are impacted by the interpretative elements of the prevalent FOP labelling schemes in four countries; Germany, Poland, Turkey and the United Kingdom (Study 4).
Conclusion: The outcomes of this research propose an optimised approach to the sharing of food composition data, an optimised approach to FOP labelling and consumer derived typologies for both the FOP labelling and nutrition and health claims domains.
Objective: Health claims on food packaging are regulated to inform and protect consumers, however many consumers do not accurately interpret the meaning of the claims. Whilst research has shown different types of misinterpretation, it is not clear how those interpretations are formed. The aim of this study is to elicit the causal beliefs and causal models about food and health held by consumers, i.e. their understanding of the causal relationships between nutrients, health outcomes and the causal pathways connecting them, and investigate how well this knowledge explains the variation in inferences they draw about health benefits from health claims.
Method: 400 participants from Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Slovenia, and the UK were presented with 7 authorised health claims and drew inferences about the health benefits of consuming nutrients specified in the claim. Then their personal causal models of health were elicited along with their belief in the truth and familiarity with the claims.
Results: The strength of inferences about health benefits that participants drew from the claims were predicted independently by the strength of the relevant causal pathways within the causal model, and belief in the truth of the claim, but not familiarity with the claim. Participants drew inferences about overall health benefits of the nutrients by extrapolating from their causal models of health.
Conclusion: Consumers? interpretation of claims is associated with their belief in the claim and their causal models of health. This prior knowledge is used to interpret the claim and draw inferences about overall health benefits that go beyond the information in the claim. Therefore efforts to improve consumers? understanding and interpretation of health claims must address both their wider causal models of health and their knowledge of specific claims.
symptoms that have a serious adverse effect on quality of life. Management is problematic due to the variable and
fluctuating nature of symptoms, often hourly and daily. The PD_Manager mHealth platform aims to provide a
continuous feed of data on symptoms to improve clinical understanding of the status of any individual patient and
inform care planning. The objectives of this trial are to (1) assess patient (and family carer) perspectives of PD_
Manager regarding comfort, acceptability and ease of use; (2) assess clinician views about the utility of the data
generated by PD_Manager for clinical decision making and the acceptability of the system in clinical practice.
Methods/design: This trial is an unblinded, parallel, two-group, randomised controlled pilot study. A total of 200
persons with Parkinson?s disease (Hoehn and Yahr stage 3, experiencing motor fluctuations at least 2 h per day),
with primary family carers, in three countries (110 Rome, 50 Venice, Italy; 20 each in Ioannina, Greece and Surrey,
England) will be recruited. Following informed consent, baseline information will be gathered, including the
following: age, gender, education, attitudes to technology (patient and carer); time since Parkinson?s diagnosis,
symptom status and comorbidities (patient only). Randomisation will assign participants (1:1 in each country), to
PD_Manager vs control, stratifying by age (1 d 70 : 1 > 70) and gender (60% M: 40% F). The PD_Manager system
captures continuous data on motor symptoms, sleep, activity, speech quality and emotional state using wearable
devices (wristband, insoles) and a smartphone (with apps) for storing and transmitting the information. Control
group participants will be asked to keep a symptom diary covering the same elements as PD_Manager records.
After a minimum of two weeks, each participant will attend a consultation with a specialist doctor for review of the
data gathered (by either means), and changes to management will be initiated as indicated. Patients, carers and
clinicians will be asked for feedback on the acceptability and utility of the data collection methods. The PD_
Manager intervention, compared to a symptom diary, will be evaluated in a cost-consequences framework Discussion: Information gathered will inform further development of the PD_Manager system and a larger
Trial registration: ISRCTN Registry, ISRCTN17396879. Registered on 15 March 2017.
Background: Most food in the UK is purchased in supermarkets and many of these purchases are routinely tracked through supermarket loyalty card data. Using such data may be an effective way to develop remote public health interventions and to measure objectively their effectiveness at changing food purchasing behaviour.
Objectives: The FLICC study is a pilot randomised controlled trial of a digital behaviour change intervention. This pilot trial aimed to collect data on recruitment and retention rates and to provide estimates of effect sizes for the primary outcome (healthiness of ready meals and pizzas purchased) to inform a larger trial.
Methods: The intervention consisted of a website where participants could access tailored feedback on previous purchases of ready meals and pizzas, set goals, model behaviour and practice using traffic light labels. The control consisted of web-based information on traffic light labelling. Participants were recruited via email from a list of loyalty card holders held by the participating supermarket. All food and drink purchases for the participants for the six months prior to recruitment, during the six week intervention period and during a twelve week wash out period were transferred to the research team by the participating supermarket. Healthiness of ready meal and pizzas was measured using a pre-developed scale based solely on the traffic light colours on the foods. Questionnaires were completed at recruitment, end of intervention and end of wash out to estimate the effect of the intervention on variables that mediate behaviour change (e.g. belief and intention formation).
Results: We recruited 496 participants from an initial email to 50,000 people. Only three people withdrew from the study and purchase data were received for all other participants. 208 participants completed all three questionnaires. There was no difference in the healthiness of purchased ready meals and pizzas between the intervention and control arms either during the intervention period (P = 0.315) or at wash-out (P = 0.594).
Conclusions: Whilst the FLICC study did not find evidence of an impact of the intervention on food purchasing behaviour, the unique methods used in this pilot trial are informative for future studies that plan to use supermarket loyalty card data in collaboration with supermarket partners. The experience of the trial showcases the possibilities and challenges associated with the use of loyalty card data in public health research.
The rise in use of food supplements based on botanical ingredients (herbal supplements) is depicted as part of a trend empowering consumers to manage their day-to-day health needs, which presupposes access to clear and accurate information to make effective choices. Evidence regarding herbal supplement efficacy is extremely variable so recent regulations eliminating unsubstantiated claims about potential effects leave producers able to provide very little information about their products. Medical practitioners are rarely educated about herbal supplements and most users learn about them via word-of-mouth, allowing dangerous misconceptions to thrive, chief among them the assumption that natural products are inherently safe. Print media is prolific among the information channels still able to freely discuss herbal supplements.
This study thematically analyses how 76 newspaper/magazine articles from the UK, Romania and Italy portray the potential risks and benefits of herbal supplements.
Most articles referenced both risks and benefits and were factually accurate but often lacked context and impartiality. More telling was how the risks and benefits were framed in service of a chosen narrative, the paucity of authoritative information allowing journalists leeway to recontextualise herbal supplements in ways that serviced the goals and values of their specific publications and readerships.
Providing sufficient information to empower consumers should not be the responsibility of print media, instead an accessible source of objective information is required.