Modelling population responses to workplace minimum dietary standards introduced as workers return after social lockdowns

Background: Diet norms are the shared social behaviours and beliefs about diets. In many societies, including the UK, these norms are typically linked to unhealthy diets and impede efforts to improve food choices. Social interactions that could influence one another's food choices, were highly disrupted during the lockdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A return to workplaces and re-establishment of eating networks may present an opportunity to influence dietary norms by introducing minimum dietary standards to in workplaces, which could then spread through wider home and workplace networks. Methods: An agent-based model was constructed to simulate a society reflecting the structure of a city population (1000 households) to explore changes in personal and social diet-related norms. The model tracked individual meal choices as agents interact in home, work or school settings and recorded changes in diet quality (range 1 to 100). Scenarios were run to compare individuals' diet quality with the introduction of minimum dietary standards with degrees of working from home. Results: The more people mixed at work the greater the impact of minimum standards on improving diet norms. Socially isolated households remained unaffected by minimum standards, whereas household members exposed directly, in workplaces or schools, or indirectly, influenced by others in the household, had a large and linear increase in diet quality in relation to minimum standards (0.48 [95% CI 0.34, 0.62] per unit increase in minimum standards). Since individuals regressed to the new population mean, a small proportion of diets decreased toward lower population norms. The degree of return to work influenced the rate and magnitude of change cross the population (-2.4 points [-2.40, -2.34] in mean diet quality per 20% of workers isolating). Conclusions: These model results illustrate the qualitative impact social connectivity could have on changing diets through interventions. Norms can be changed more in a more connected population, and social interactions spread norms between contexts and amplified the influence of, for example, workplace minimum standards beyond those directly exposed. However, implementation of minimum standards in a single type of setting would not reach the whole population and in some cases may decrease diet quality. Any non-zero standard could yield improvements beyond the immediate adult workforce and this could spill between social contexts, but would be contingent on population connectivity.
Refereed journal
Output Tags
WP 3.2 Healthy diets and dietary choice (RESAS 2016-21)