Research Activities

The LIA scientific projects

Encompasses 2 main research programs:
  • « Impact of socio-technological contexts on food practices », a European-Asian mirrored study through the use of two experimental platforms,
  • « Dynamic and modernized dimensions of food patterns in developing multi-ethnic societies». Relying on macro-sociological data collected by the MFB, a study of the consequences of changing food practices on public health (obesity and non-communicable diseases) and food cultures patrimonialization is currently being carried out.
It will be complemented by an attempt to assess the specific challenges related to a multidisciplinary study on human eating behaviours.
The main objective of LIA is to pool expertise, facilities and material resources to carry out a scientific project to study the links between diet and health from the perspective of Euro-Asian populations. Initially the two focus areas of research are: strengthening the network of “Food Barometers" in Asia and the establishment of “Experimental Restaurants” to study the eating behaviour, based on standardized protocols both in Toulouse, France and in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
After several years of educational and scientific cooperation with Taylor’s University, the establishment of this LIA marks another milestone of partnership and scientific research between the two universities. It extends and amplifies the work developed under the Chair of Food Studies of TTUC.

Asian Food Barometer

The “Food Barometers” objective is to provide data on socio-cultural contexts of feeding practices and their developments on a national scale. These elements are particularly useful for sectors of economy and public health. It will analyse the combined effects of social factors—such as social status, education level, gender, generation, household size and urbanisation—and it will also analyse ethno-cultural aspects of food and it consequences on population’s health. Notably, correlations between lifestyles, social factors and body characteristics such as overweight or obesity will be studied.



 


a. National Food Barometers (Indonesia, Malaysia, China & Japan…)

Malaysian Food Barometer (MFB)

As a result of rapid urbanization and modernization, a sizable new middle class in Malaysia has emerged and the traditional ways of life and eating habits of the different ethnic communities are changing with the times. For many years, nutritional surveys have been capturing the transformation of food consumption habits, but to date a comprehensive survey focusing on the socio-cultural determinants of food habits and eating decisions at the national level has not been attempted. The Malaysian Food Barometer was conceptualized to fill this gap and to investigate the eating practices and cultural representations of food and eating in a multicultural context. Its aim is to describe and understand the food habits and transformation of the many different dimensions of Malaysian communities including practices, social norms, social representations and beliefs.

Over 2,000 people across the Northern, Central and Southern regions of Peninsula Malaysia, and Sabah and Sarawak participated in the 2013 survey. The findings show the correlation between the food lifestyle of individuals, social characteristics and body size status, specifically obesity.

This survey is an initiative of the Chair of Food Studies, “Food, Cultures & Health”, spearheaded by Taylor’s University, Taylor’s Toulouse University Centre and Toulouse Jean-Jaurès University, under the supervision of Prof. Jean-Pierre Poulain. The project is also collaboration with UKM, UiTM, and Monash University. The project was made possible through Malaysian and international public and private supports, including the LRGS “National Social Cohesion” project led by Prof. Shamsul A.B. (KITA-UKM) and some industrial partners: Observatory of Food Habits of the French dairy industry, Nestlé (Malaysia) and Coca-Cola (Malaysia).

The second Malaysian Food Barometer is in progress, it will include socio cultural determinants and nutritional analysis in depth.

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Indonesian Food Barometer (IFB)

Partnership with SEAMEO RECFON to develop the Asian Food Barometer

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b. Eating out in Asia

Based on more or less partial information and data coming from heterogeneous sources, one claims often that the level of eating out in Asia is higher than in Europe. And is probably higher also than in most countries of the world, including USA. But due of the lack of comparable data that means produced at a representative level and with the same methodology, it is not possible to document and to objective this phenomenon. The repartition of meals between home and outside the home is an important question, because it allowed to understand the different contexts, in which the food and eating decisions are taken.

The purpose of this research is to fulfil this lake of knowledge, by doing a multinational survey on the repartition of the meals and food intakes in 7 Asian Countries. This research will also study the socio-cultural determinants of eating out. The results will be useful in economics to understand the organization of the demand of the food market. They will be useful for public health to base the recommendations on real life.

Finally, the results could be useful to describe the food cultures of one countries studying through the place the form of socialization, the modality of socialization and of transmission from one generation to another.

Kremlasen Naidoo (link to his CV) a PhD candidate is involved in the eating out project.

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c. SCRIPT Survey 

While the adoption of higher energy intakes and more energy-dense diets appears in the frame of the nutrition transition theory (Drewnowski, Popkin, 1997) to be a “universal” incomes-driven phenomenon, dietary shifts from plant to animal proteins (meat, fish or dairy) are much more dependent on culture, religion, and other country-specific variables.
The present research goal is to study the cultural and economic aspects of the “protein transition” by using a mixed-model approach, based on qualitative interviews and focus groups and on quantitative surveys. These issues will be explored in two countries: Malaysia and Indonesia.

Study protocols will be based on the established Malaysian Food Barometer (MFB) with modifications and adaptations to meet the objectives of the project. The MFB was specifically developed to study aspects of the nutrition transition in the rapidly developing and urbanized countries of Asia and SE Asia. Largely based on social sciences, the MFB provides valuable additional insight to classical nutritional or economic studies (Poulain and al. 2014).

The proposed project has identified a multidisciplinary research team with expertise in Nutrition, Social Sciences and Public Health.


Hong Kong Food Barometer (HKFB)

Using the model of the MFB, this survey studies the transformation of the Hong-Kong people’s Eating habits. Partnership with the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
 

Experimental Platform

The “Experimental Restaurant” plans to explore in detail the influence of physical and social contexts on eating behaviour among individuals and small groups in different settings (home, hospital room, restaurants, etc.). A suitable space, equipped with automated tools (cameras, microphones) backed up with facial recognition software will be in place to capture real live situations. These observations will help to enrich the scope of eating behaviour based on new types of empirical data such as facial recognition of taste emotions and digital analysis of social interactions.

Impact of socio-technical contexts on food practices: Experimental platforms to study eating behaviours in context (OVALIE in France and experimental Restaurant in Malaysia)

The OVALIE experimental platform financed and validated by the State-region contract plan (CPER Midi-Pyrénées) with the CNRS participation, aims at studying the influence of physical and social contexts on eating behaviours. The platform is a kind of theatre stage, with changing settings which can provide a number of greatly varied contexts such as a family dining room, a restaurant, a school canteen, a hospital room, an aircraft cabin, etc.

This adaptable space is equipped with data collection devices (various camera types, directional microphones controlled by a broadcaster and backed up by facial recognition software sound file to text file transfer software, etc.). These devices complement the traditional tasting rooms to be found in wine cellars or in agri-food industries by creating « everyday-like » situations which enable researchers to take into account the impact of social contexts and interactions.






The fields of application include behavioural research in human nutrition, in social science applied to food, studying the adaptation to food innovations, the socialization processes with food as found in school restaurants and the social dimensions of eating disorders.
The OVALIE platform will contribute to the development of multidisciplinary research work on the influences of both contexts and friendliness on eating behaviours.
In the field of health, studying themes such as:
  • Nutrition in hospitals;
  •  Food and ageing;
  • Obese people’s eating practices, particularly after bariatric surgery;
  • Disabled children’s eating habits (particularly those suffering from autism disorders (ASDs) and pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) etc...;
  • Children’s and teenagers’ food and nutrition education.
In the economic field:
  • Contextualized hedonic evaluation of food and drinks;
  • Acceptability of innovations;
  • Evaluation of catering offers.
The equipment will contribute to structuring research work in the field of social science applied to food. It will also encourage the ongoing development of multidisciplinary research networks in France and Malaysia:
  1. In France, besides the CERTOP, the project will involve the following stakeholders:
 
  • The Toulouse Integrated Centre of Obesity (CIO), run by Professor Patrick Ritz, implemented within the framework of the National Obesity Plan to « promote multidisciplinary research in obesity including its biological, psychological, sociological and clinical aspects ». To this end, it comprises 8 research teams - Inserm, CNRS, universities – and 4 hospital units.
  • The Pôle Aliment (Nutrition cluster): Health and Food Security (Sécurité Sanitaire et Santé-PASSS), a continuum of services, run by Professor Jean Daydé. The PA3S is a research network on nutrition, investigating the benefit-risk balance and pooling theregional competencies and know-how in the fields of nutrition, food and health, food quality and safety, functional food and nutrition. It includes 16 public research teams, 6 technology transfer entities, and 17 regional food and feed businesses.
  • The INSERM UMR 1027 Unit, Paul Sabatier University, « Epidemiology and analyses in public health: risks, chronic diseases and disabilities », run by Professor Sandrine Andrieu, working on ageing (Professor Bruno Vellas) and nutrition, nutrition and disabilities, particularly the socialization with food of autistic children (Professor Jean Philippe Raynaud).
  1. Besides the Cluster for Research Initiative in Food, Nutrition and Public Health, the Malaysian stakeholders will be:
  • The « Nutrition and Public Health » department of the National University of Malaysia (UKM);
  • The « Malaysian Association for the Study of Obesity » (MASO); a scholarly organization including the stakeholders dealing with obesity and chaired by Professor Ismail Noor;
  • The MFB industrial partners.
The methodological aspect will be ensured by a partnership with Toulouse Institute of Computer Science Research (IRIT UMR CNRS 5505, Professor Florence SEDES) which will provide their scientific support in developing data processing tools, mainly in the study of social interactions and facial recognition of gustatory emotions. TU « School of Computing » (Professor Hiew Pang Leang) will also be part of the partnership.

The platform will be available to the « research » partners and the company members of both networks. It will also serve some doctoral and Master’s degree programs (Master’s degree in Social Sciences Applied to Food Studies - UT2J-ISTHIA-ENFA – in France Master of Food Studies in Malaysia).

The two regional networks (PASSS and CIO) provide a strong regional base and link up the academic and economic worlds. However, by developing second- generation set-ups, the project will also play a significant national and international part, welcome other French or foreign researchers and develop international collaborations, notably with the Barcelona “Observatoire de l’alimentation” (ODALI), run by Professor Jesus Contreras. Finally, within the framework of the ISTHIA – TU partnership, (Prof. Jean Pierre Poulain, Chair of Food Studies: Food, Cultures and Health), similar equipments will be set up in Kuala Lumpur so that “mirrored” research can be carried out on Asian populations (Chinese, Malay, Indian).
The scientific project consists in studying the influences of physical and social contexts on eating practices.

There is some strong scientific heritage concerning the individual-food relationship, particularly through the paradigm of sensory evaluation (Urdapilleta, Ton Nu, Saint-Denis, 2001; Lawless & Heymann, 2010, Société française d'analyse sensorielle & Afnor, 2015). This knowledge has been developed through the use of tasting rooms whose characteristics is to neutralize the influence of context effects. Their epistemological core is based on physiological sensitivity and perception psychology. Nevertheless, social factors do play some part. Research work focuses on food, wines, ingredients and ready-made products, etc. and are ultimately meant to result in both technological development processes and their positioning in relation to competition. In the traditional perspective adopted by sensory analysis, the « context » is seen as an unwanted variable that should be neutralized. The influence of the contexts in which food is consumed on eaters’ decisions and appraisal is mostly outside the scope of the research carried out in tasting rooms.

This is why studies have been developed to try and understand the influence of « natural » contexts, an approach which is known as « home tasting » (Bonin, Chambres, Bernard, 2001; De Graaf, Cardello, Kramer, Lesher, Meiselman, Schutz, 2005; Boutrolle, 2011). It relies on the range of tools provided by psychology, sociology or ethnology.

Similarly, besides traditional tools (questionnaires, interviews, focus groups, etc.) the sociology and psychology of food have developed specific approaches enabling to grasp the effects of context at multiple scales (Poulain (dir), 2012; Poulain et al. 2015). These methods most often use empirical data collected through individual interviews. Ethnographic observations provide a multidimensional view of events, but remain shaped by the observers’ epistemological and physical posture. Quasi-experimental situations of observation have been designed in order to conduct food interviews with children in front of their parents, allowing the former to point out among the food available at home (cupboards, refrigerators) the one they like, do not like, eat (Lalanne & Tibère, 2012; Dupuy, 2013).

By using new automatic collection devices (fish-eye camera module, special glasses equipped with a camera, etc.), Saddi Lahlou highlights the considerable variation between what the observer sees and the actors’ very perception (Lahlou, 2011). These studies significantly complement observation strategies and provide solid ground for using technical automatic collection systems to improve the study of social interactions and influences of context.

These are the reasons that led to the setting up of platforms or experimental restaurants using automatic collection technologies. The main three set-ups in Europe are:
  • The experimental university restaurant in Wageningen (Netherlands);
  • The platform of the Nestlé research centre in nutrition in Lausanne (Switzerland);
  • The experimental restaurant of the Paul Bocuse research institute in Lyon (France).
They have contributed to some significant steps forward in terms of taking into account contexts (Giboreau and Furey, 2009), but are sometimes hampered by the challenge of processing a massive amount of digital data. In this respect, one of the scientific issues is to reduce processing time. Ultimately, one of the objectives could be to reduce it to the extent that it would be shorter than that of traditional observation.

The « Ovalie » research project in Toulouse means to take « context » into account as an independent variable. To that purpose, the equipment to handle context dimensions should be provided and spaces accommodated with visual, sound, thermal data collection devices, etc. thus allowing to explore the influence of several context settings on eating practices and food representations.

In view of this, the notion of context comprises two main dimensions:
  1. The physical context made up of the furniture and the equipment framing the physical space, positioning the individuals and predefining the way they will move and interact;
  2. The social context which is the outcome of the social characteristics (sex, age, education) of the individuals/actors participating in the event and of the way they interact with one another. This social context is also partly determined by the physical context.
The second generation setups will provide:
  • Increasing modularity facilitating the creation of new contexts (hospital room, tasting room, various types of catering, canteen, cafeteria, traditional served restaurant menu, aircraft cabin, etc.);
  • A new paradigm of facial recognition;
  • Faster processing algorithms (Big Data);
  • A cross-disciplinary scientific project for analysing taste experiences and social
interactions;

A platform to be used as a space for « focus groups ».

Flagship Research Programme Health & Obesity

In Malaysia, changes in dietary habits and sedentary lifestyles have produced the highest prevalence of overweight and obesity in South East Asia and dramatic increases in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and diabetes. Overweight and obesity have doubled over the past decade among adult Malaysians from 21% in 1996 to 43% in 2006 (Lim et al., 2000; MOH, 2008) and recently it was reported at 44.5% (MOH, 2011), high among adolescents, 19% (Poh et al., 2003) and children from 20.7% in 2002 to 26.1% in 2008 (Ismail et al., 2009).  The escalation of obesity, once thought to be an urban phenomenon, has now spread to the rural population at an alarming rate.  As Malaysia progresses rapidly towards a developed economy status, the health of its population will probably continue to deteriorate (Ismail et al., 2002). 

Environmental health model is the dominant paradigm to organize the fight against the rise in obesity (Lakerveld et al. 2012) and nutrition and food education can play a leading role among the available tools. However, most of the available programs are developed in Western contexts (European and North-American). Therefore, the transfer represents several issues in a country such as Malaysia characterize by high food cultures diversity and a very developed outside-of-home food consumption.

In the medical field the successful development of the bariatric surgery succeeds to the failure of the two principle medicines (ORLISAT XENICLA). The psychological and medical conditions prior to the implementation of a project of intervention in bariatric surgery are now the subject of great attention, within the medical teams. Once the intervention has been carried out, the modalities of resuming a "more or less normal" diet are also the subject of questions both on the practical level and on that of fundamental knowledge.
The advances of epigenetics open new perspectives in the understanding of gene interactions, particularly with the food environment (nutrigenomic).

The purpose of this multidisciplinary research is to assume a double strategy of research:
  • The first one based on the “environmental perspective”. Beginning from the food studies perspective that highlights evidence of the ethnic and socio cultural food patterns and following with a contextualization of the consumption of the main food intakes. This evidence can be used to develop a professional community-based action program involving restaurants and food industries to increase the empowerment of both restaurant managers and consumers.

  • The second one on the “individual perspective” with the identification of medical determinants……. And with the development of an application dedicated to the monitoring of eating behaviour.
The Faculty of “Hospitality, Food and Leisure Management” have taken a position on the research topic in 2012, with the creation of a Chair in “Food Studies: Food Cultures and Health”. The first of its kind in the country. The Malaysian Food Barometer is one of the productions of the chair. It adapts a methodology developed in Europe to study in deep the sociocultural determinants of obesity (ENCAFE Network). established and well received by several Asian countries is a fine example in this context.

The choice to study the topics of transformation of food habits and its consequences in terms of public health have been confirmed with the enrolment of an Emeritus Professor in Nutrition.
This multidisciplinary expertise has support, the effort to push the research agenda in Taylors have earned the group an International recognition when the CNRS (France) accredited Taylors and Toulouse Universities a LIA status in “Food, Cultures and Health” in January 2016. More recently, partnerships with Industry have been signed which embody some research activities related to the core objectives of TCHT.

TCHT have the capability in addressing the research agenda relevant to the nation’s need. The school of medicine have enrolled in 2017, the professor KF Chin, medical expert of bariatric surgery….

The school of liberal arts explore health issues through a multidisciplinary approach the (history, anthropology psychology) and focusing on gender and ethnicity. It proposes to join the group.
So the gathering of this 3 mains entities of Taylor’s university (Faculty of hospitality food and Leisure Management, school of medicine and school of social science) can research priorities at Taylor’s to propose a flagship programme “Obesity and Health” not only relevant but appropriate for due consideration.
 

Description of the Programme

The increase of non-communicable diseases is concomitant with the modernization of societies. The diet-related health problems in Asia, in particular Malaysia are serious because of the very rapid speed of modernization in this part of the world (compacted modernity).

This programme address one of the most important challenge of the Asian societies, that is, the rise of non-communicable diseases that accompanies the nutritional transition related to the modernisation of the food habits of its population. That question put Taylor’s university in the centre of the problem of Asian modernised societies.

This 5 years programme will focus on the socio- cultural determinants of “food and nutrition transition” in Asia and will make some concrete propositions to face the challenge and help reduced the economic burden related to rising NCDs.

It can be composed in 5 main sub programmes:

1.  Food environment: eating out in Asia
2.  Experimental Platform
3.  Chong
4.  Motivating healthy lifestyle
5.  Cure for obesity

The three first programs will adopt the Environmental Health model” trying to identify the specificities of the food environment in Malaysia: mainly the high level of eating out and the multi-ethnic dimension of the society. The perspective is also relevant in the large majority of the Asian countries and the work done in Taylor’s could be view as a starting point, putting Taylor’s in the light on a question on all the political agenda of the region.

“Environmental health model” is the dominant paradigm to organize the fight against obesity and NCD rise. ‘Environment’ must be taken in its physical, economical, sociological and ethno-cultural dimensions.  However, most of the available tools was developed in West contexts (European and North- American). Therefore, the transfer represents several issues in a country such as Malaysia characterize by high food cultures diversity and a very developed outside of home food consumption. The purpose of this multidisciplinary project is to assume the environmental perspective by:
  • Highlighting evidence of the ethnic food patterns to develop education nutritional education programs. 

  • The development of nutritional education programs adapted to the Malaysian context. Programs are developed for youth at different age levels. They take into account the life contexts and ethnic cultures of the respective groups.
  • Developing a professional community base actions involving restaurants and food industries to increase the empowerment of both restaurant managers and consumers. 

  • Adaptations of programs of various degrees in hospitality and culinary arts, integrating a healthy food approach in respect of culinary arts and cultural traditions. 

  • Making professionals of hospitality, catering and food industries active actors of the improvement of the food environment.  By developing healthier menus and products in respect of cultural traditions and the pleasure of food. 

The development and adaption of tools for public health and food.
 

The Strategy through environment and Rethinking traditional dishes

The strategy through the environment will involve the professional of restaurant and catering industry traditional to first increase their awareness on the problem of obesity and of their social responsibility. The question is not here to develop nutritional information on the carte or in the restaurant. This kind of action is not excluded but correspond more to the first strategy though the individual. Where the professional give information in order to help the guest to take the

decision. The purpose of this sub project is more to develop the empowerment of the professional of catering and restaurant to help them to transform and improve the traditional recipes. To do that the traditional dishes will be redesign by a pluri-disciplinary team of nutritionist, food scientist and cook. The new recipes will be test in a sensorial lab and experimental restaurant by both expert and normal guest (Gacula, and al. 2008 and Gacula, 2008; Murray and al., 2001).

Finally, the objective is to articulate the nutritional knowledge with social and cultural dimensions of food in order to improve the nutritional profiles of the traditional dishes.
 

Experimental menu development & guide for good food practices

Not just the new recipes, but also the new techniques and the methodologies of redesign and sensorial evaluation will be the core material to develop professional empowerment (Lee, 2000). A website with the materials will be put at the disposal of the professional community.

The strategy of dissemination will be based on non-governmental organizations working in the field of nutrition like “Malaysian Association for the Study of Obesity”, “Nutrition Society of Malaysia” and on professional organizations like, “Malaysian Association of Food and Beverage”, “Malaysian institute for food technology”.

The researchers, including the experts of the Ministry of Health, will work with the NGO to write guides for good food practices in restaurants and in food services industries and charters of commitment. Both actions will be mediated under the umbrella of MoH and MoHE.
Finally, the material will be used to develop text books for hospitality and culinary art education.

The global objective is to enable professionals (restaurant, food services and food industry) who can to be designated as responsible for the rise of obesity, to play a positive role in the campaign against this public health problem and to enable them to fulfil their social responsibility.