What’s for lunch? Eliciting preferences for food on university campus

Project lead: Irina Pokhilenko (University of Birmingham)

Participating universities: University of Birmingham, University of Florence, Linnaeus University, University of Murcia, Nantes Université, Semmelweis University

General Overview

The aim of this project is to identify and compare preferences of university staff and students for lunch served on campus by conducting a survey within six university campuses in six European countries. Thereby, we will be able to compare our findings not only in relation to the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of the respondents, but also in relation to their geographical location potentially uncovering cultural differences in food preferences. Furthermore, we will supplement the survey with the campus food system analysis using the University Food Environment Assessment (Uni-Food) Tool to contextualize our findings.

Purpose and Significance

Every day, people make decisions about purchasing and consuming food. These decisions are guided by habits, past experiences, as well as a range of socioeconomic and cultural factors. Food consumption has a direct impact on people’s health. Having a better understanding of the drivers of food consumption choices can support the design of tailored food-based interventions and lead to health and economic benefits for individuals and society.

Compared to schools and workplaces, food provision on university campuses is under-researched. Universities represent a unique setting as they include a wide range of people in terms of age, ethnicity, and cultural background. Being both a place of education and a workplace, universities are ideal settings for implementing health promotion interventions. Furthermore, universities are becoming increasingly interested in the health of their students and staff and in becoming more sustainable. Understanding the drivers of students’ and staff food choices can provide valuable evidence for informing university food policy and for transforming the campus food system by increasing the healthiness, diversity and sustainability of the campus food offer.

Implementation Method and Timeline

  • May 2023 – February 2024:
    Obtain ethical approval
    Systematic review to inform development of survey
    Co-produce research protocol and submit to academic journalDesign survey, including international focus groups, translation, and pilot interviews, to inform the survey design
  • January 2024 – April 2024:
    Context analysis - analyse campus food environment using the Uni-Food tool
  • March 2024:
    Deploy and promote survey
  • April 2024 – June 2024:
    Data analysis, including presentation and discussion with all partners
  • June 2024 – September 2024:
    Writing up and dissemination of results, including summary in each partner language
    Presentation of study findings, including end of project meeting

Expected Outcomes

By exploring the variation of preferences among the staff and students in relation to their demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, this research is expected to contribute to our understanding of how university food system policy can reduce nutritional and health inequalities and generate insight which will ensure that all food choices available on campus are nutritious, affordable and desirable to all students and staff. A minimum of three publications are expected to result from the project, which will be presented at relevant national and international academic conferences.

The results of this project help inform campus food policies. Based on our results, we plan to produce lay language policy briefs to be shared with university communities and campus food officers. This research will also help inform the wider food strategy on how businesses can implement a healthy food offer that is both economically and environmentally sustainable using university campuses as a case study example.

Finally, the project will give rise to a new collaboration within the EUniWell network, which may lead to future joint initiatives.