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World Food Day 2023

October 16 is World Food Day. We spoke to Marília Prada, a researcher at the Centre for Psychological Research and Social Intervention (CIS-Iscte), who has been investigating individual and contextual factors that affect the adoption of healthier diets.

Marília Prada is a professor at Iscte's School of Social Sciences and researcher at CIS-Iscte. In addition to her experience in developing and validating instruments, her research interests include food perception and eating behavior, social cognition, attitudes, the effect of emotional priming, and consumer behavior.

Marília has developed and worked on projects to understand behavior related to adopting healthy eating. Can you briefly tell us about your research in this area?

My research on food is organized along four main lines. Firstly, I've been interested in the impact of how specific attributes highlighted on food packaging can modulate consumer perception. For example, we have seen that attributes such as "organic origin", "gluten-free" or "no added sugar" can lead people to see products as healthier and less caloric. We have also worked to identify factors that constitute barriers and facilitators of plant-based diets, namely the similarity between meat and the animal that gives rise to it or the perception of meat alternatives. One area in which we have invested a lot is in researching the factors underlying the consumption of high-sugar products. On the one hand, we have focused on individual determinants related to people's ability to reduce their sugar intake, such as knowing the recommended maximum limit or identifying ingredients as sources of sugar. On the other hand, we have explored context-related variables, including analyzing the nutritional quality of product categories on the national market (e.g., breakfast cereals) or even how subtle cues such as music influence the perception of sweetness of different foods.

Finally, I recently joined the team of an international project that aims to promote adherence to the principles of the Mediterranean Diet in university canteens.

What motivated you to study the topic of sugar reduction, as in the Sugar project, and why is this area important in the context of public health?

CIS-Iscte is a partner in the "MedDietMenus4Campus" project. What is the aim of this project and how does psychology contribute to changing eating habits in the context of this project?

Together with Ispa researcher Magda Saraiva, Marília is coordinating a recently funded project - "LessSugar4Kids". What is the aim of the project?

Considering your knowledge in this area, how would you suggest that policymakers and health organizations could use scientific data to inform more effective public health campaigns, not only in reducing sugar, but also in promoting healthier consumption habits?

What advice would you give to people who want to make healthier food choices and reduce their sugar consumption, based on the knowledge you've gained from your research?

World Food Day was established by the United Nations in 1979 to celebrate the creation of its Food and Agriculture Organization. Since 1981, the celebration of this day has followed a specific theme each year. The 2023 edition, under the motto "Water is life, water is food. Leave no one behind.", is dedicated to water and aims to raise awareness of its importance, especially in the context of climate change



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