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Risk/Benefit Communication About Food? A Systematic Review of the Literature


Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2016 Jul 26;56(10):1728-45.

Fifty-four papers were analysed to examine to which extent food risk communication can impact consumers attitudes and behaviours. Both citizen’s risk perceptions and risk–related behaviours need to be taken into account in relation to any potential food hazard. Recommendations for behavioural change need to be concrete and actionable. Overall conclusion was that acute risk/benefit communication will require advances in communication process whereas chronic communication needs to identify audience requirements.

A systematic review relevant to the following research questions was conducted 1) the extent to which different theoretical frameworks have been applied to food risk/benefit communication and 2) the impact such food risk/benefit communication interventions have had on related risk/benefit attitudes and behaviours. Fifty four papers were identified. The analysis revealed that (primarily European or US) research interest has been relatively recent. Certain food issues were of greater interest to researchers than others, perhaps reflecting the occurrence of a crisis, or policy concern. Three broad themes relevant to the development of best practice in risk (benefit) communication were identified: the characteristics of the target population; the contents of the information; and the characteristics of the information sources. Within these themes, independent and dependent variables differed considerably. Overall, acute risk (benefit) communication will require advances in communication process whereas chronic communication needs to identify audience requirements. Both citizen’s risk/benefit perceptions and (if relevant) related behaviours need to be taken into account, and recommendations for behavioural change need to be concrete and actionable. The application of theoretical frameworks to the study of risk (benefit) communication was infrequent, and developing predictive models of effective risk (benefit) communication may be contingent on improved theoretical perspectives. Research has infrequently assessed the impact of risk (benefit) communication on behaviour itself, but has tended to use proxies for behaviour such as attitudinal changes or behavioural intention, perhaps because of procedural difficulties, although this merits consideration in future research.

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