Economics of food

Urbanisation, food marketing strategies, globalisation and economic growth have led to major changes in diets with direct consequences on population health. Most countries have been going through a nutrition transition, but differences in socio-demographic and behavioural characteristics within countries have made transition patterns vary widely across the population. Increased income inequality and food price dynamics have made energy-rich and nutrient-imbalanced foods increasingly affordable and foods of higher nutrition quality more expensive. Opportunities for healthy nutrition may be dramatically restricted for less educated and economically deprived population groups. This will fuel inequalities in nutrition leading to even wider inequalities in health, economic productivity and a slower economic development.

Obesity is a critical global problem creating a burden on health care systems around the world. It is largely preventable by promoting policies and interventions that enable changes in behaviour and lifestyle. However, the homeostatic mechanisms that regulate body weight are unable to cope with an environment of highly calorific, rewarding and easily affordable foods, especially in the absence of significant demands for energy expenditure. An ‘obesogenic’ environment, together with a host of cognitive and behavioural biases, provides a powerful drive towards unhealthy behaviours with significant health and economic consequences.

Through our expertise in economic and policy analysis, we work in a multi-factor framework bringing together government, business and civil society stakeholders.  We assess the value and the impact of food formulation and reformulation initiatives, ways of harnessing the power of marketing and behavioural interventions to improve the quality of people’s nutrition, conveying intelligible and actionable information through an intelligent packaging and labelling of food products, using price incentives to consolidate healthy nutrition habits. Finally, we want to contribute to the design of food policies that fuel secure access to food, promote healthy diets and mitigate the impact of poor nutrition on health and economic productivity.

Key Imperial infrastructure: Business School, Centre for Health Economics & Policy Innovation

Theme leads

Professor Franco Sassi

Franco Sassi is Professor of International Health Policy and Economics and Director of the Centre for Health Economics and Policy Innovation at Imperial College Business School. He is also the former Head of the OECD Public Health Programme. He is a leading researcher on obesity and nutrition policies, author of one of OECD's most impactful policy monographs (Obesity and the Economics of Prevention, 2010). He has pioneered the use of policy simulation models for estimating the health, social and economic impacts of public health policies.

Further information on Professor Franco Sassi

Dr Marisa Miraldo

Dr Marisa Miraldo has a track record in leading multidisciplinary research in health economics and policy. Her expertise is on the behavioural determinants of health-risk behaviour and the development and the evaluation of the impact of policies and interventions on health outcomes, inequalities and efficiency. She currently leads the Health Research stream at the KPMG Data Analytics Centre, a research program on the determinants of the adoption of innovation for chronic conditions such as cancer, and Cardiovascular Disease.

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Business School

School of Public Health