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Changing Dietary Behaviour

20 December 2014

Strong evidence now exists of the need to shift diets towards reduced levels of meat-eating among high consuming countries such as the UK to help address climate change, promote public health and help feed the world more fairly and humanely.

Eating Better ReportBut understanding how to achieve this dietary behaviour change has not yet received the attention it deserves, according to a report, Let's talk about meat:

changing dietary behaviour for the 21st century, from Eating Better campaign group.

The report written by Sue Dibb and Dr Ian Patrick is intended to stimulate debate and action towards addressing the sustainability of diet and the role that meat has in it.

It follows a review of relevant consumption patterns, trends, and people’s attitudes and behaviours that has been carried out for Eating Better.

It identifies 10 drivers that the report authors say could provide opportunities for encouraging dietary shifts.

And it also also highlight research and policy gaps and make recommendations.

Key findings

In 2014, a YouGov survey for Eating Better shows that more than a third of people in the UK (35%) report they are willing to eat less meat, with one-in-five (20%) saying they have cut back in the last year.

Despite this significant interest in eating less meat, our evidence review found only very limited research to directly understand the public’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviours towards eating less meat, or that sought to understand how best to achieve this dietary transition.

The report discusses 10 potential drivers for motivating behaviour change towards Eating Better’s goal to encourage more plant-based and ‘less and better’ meat eating. Promising drivers include concern for health, concern for farm animal welfare and cost savings of eating less meat.

The report adds that concern for climate change, the environment and feeding the world more fairly currently rate less highly as potential motivators of behaviour change.

There are low levels of awareness of meat-eating having these impacts – only 28 per cent of people agree that livestock production has significant impacts on the environment.

Concerns about meat authenticity, provenance and safety - brought to the public’s attention by the horse meat scandal in 2013 and concerns about Campylobacter contamination in chicken in 2014 - have impacted on consumer attitudes, but less clearly on long-term purchasing behaviour.

Habitual behaviours towards food choices and the strong cultural and personal significance of meat eating for many are potential barriers to change.

Men in particular tend to be higher meat consumers and less willing to consider eating less. By comparison, women eat less red meat.

Young people appear more open to ‘flexitarian’ eating with the highest proportion of nonmeat eaters, potentially indicative of a generational shift in attitudes and behaviours towards meat eating, the report shows.

“It is increasingly well understood that successful behaviour change requires a systemic approach that goes beyond persuading or ‘nudging’ individuals to change their behaviour, to include government policies and practices, new and different business practices, and civil society initiatives working in synergy to facilitate the desired behaviour change,” the report says.

“A broad range of civil society organisations is working to raise awareness and encourage behaviour change towards less and/or better meat consumption.

“However, we found that the evidence for advocating reduced meat consumption as part of healthy sustainable diets has not yet translated into policies and practices from government to support consumer behaviour change.

“In particular the UK, unlike some other countries, has not yet published official healthy and sustainable dietary guidance - including advice about reducing consumption of meat - that can be used by health professionals, educators, businesses and the public.

“We conclude that there is an important role for governments, public health bodies, food businesses, researchers and civil society organisations to work collaboratively towards understanding and testing the practical ways in which dietary behaviours can be shifted onto more sustainable pathways,” the report says.


The report calls on governments and public health bodies to:

  • recognise the importance of integrating sustainability with healthy eating policies and practices, and put in place strategies to apply this within local, national and international contexts.
  • provide, and actively promote, information and advice on healthy sustainable diets by updating the Eatwell Plate to include advice on eating less and better meat.
  • ensure the National Curriculum includes education on healthy and sustainable eating.
  • fund research to support successful behaviour change strategies.
  • monitor consumer diets and report on progress towards less and better meat consumption.
  • ensure that public health, agriculture, trade, fiscal and other relevant policies support and catalyse the transition towards healthy sustainable food production and consumption, and
  • convene experts and stakeholders with the purpose of sharing knowledge and creating collaboration towards practical approaches to achieving healthy sustainable diets.

The report also says that food businesses should assess the ways in which they can support dietary change to more plant-based and less and better meat eating through menu planning, reformulation, choice editing, support for farmers producing ‘better’ meat, and making low meat/meat-free options more available, affordable and attractive.

And it calls on researchers and funding bodies to:

  • prioritise and fund a suite of practical research projects working with food businesses, civil society organisations and the public to:
  • develop new pilots and projects to test behavioural approaches and evaluate initiatives towards reducing meat consumption, and
  • understand how best to engage different audiences for example by gender, age, income, cultural or religious backgrounds, geographical communities and at ‘moments of change’ such as becoming a parent.

The report adds that civil society organisations should also work collaboratively to develop shared messaging and campaigns, evaluate the impacts of initiatives towards less and better meat eating and consider how to integrate messages on the benefits of less and better meat eating into their communication and lobbying activities.


Driver  Opportunities
1. Habits Non-meat or lower-meat choices to be good value, accessible and desirable tasty choices.
2. Cultural significance
of meat eating
Opportunity to draw on traditional diets based on low meat/plant-based eating e.g. Mediterranean diet, Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines.
3. Price/cost Lower meat diets can save money and enable ‘better’ meat choices within the same budget.
4. Convenience Food companies and the food service sector to offer more non-meat and lower meat meal alternatives. Education to increase cooking skills for plant-based eating.
5. Interest in health Promotion of strong public health messages on health benefits of lower meat and plant-based diets. Myth busting information provision on nutritional adequacy of lower/non meat eating e.g. protein and iron. Reducing meat, rather than eliminating it completely to offer nutritional reassurance.
6. Awareness of the environmental impacts Awareness raising campaigns, information, education and better labelling (where appropriate).
7. Concern for animal welfare Opportunities to link animal welfare concerns to wider environmental and health concerns to encourage less and better meat eating. Greater provision and promotion of meat produced to higher animal welfare standards.
8. Interest in provenance and traceability Opportunity to connect people with where their food comes from and the people that produce it, and offer higher quality/taste, environmental, welfare standards
and better returns to producers/local economy. Food retailers and caterers, to include ‘local’ distinctiveness as part of ‘better’ meat offer.
9. Knowledge about
alternatives to meat
Growth in meat replacement and meat alternative market provides opportunities to help consumers transition to a lower meat diet
10. Food scares Opportunity to raise awareness of ‘better’ meat choices or meat alternatives.

December 2014

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