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The Livestock, Environment and People (LEAP) project is part of the Wellcome Trust-funded 'Our Planet Our Health Programme.
The focus groups have been a really worthwhile experience, with some revealing dialogues and topics.
-  Helen Adams, University of Oxford

During March and April, the LEAP Diet and Behaviour Change team, together with the LEAP Public Engagement Coordinator, are running a series of focus groups to better understand people’s attitudes and beliefs about the role of meat in their diets.

Unlike other mass forms of research (e.g. surveys) or ethnographic observations, the remit of the focus group is not to be representative, but instead to engage small numbers of people (4-12) in an in-depth discussion, purposely drawing on individual experiences, opinions and ideas to create a qualitative tapestry of personal responses.

The team's focus groups are targeted at two separate groups based on their dietary identities: one session for those who identify as regular meat eaters (eating one or more portions per day) and those who identify as meat-reducers (those who have reduced the amount of meat they eat in the past five years). In order to canvas a variety of views and to take into account the potential for regional variation, the team are running the groups in three different locations: London, Blackpool and Oswestry.

London is a large conurbation with a diverse population and a culture-defining food scene; Blackpool is a mid-size town in northern England which has the highest number of takeaways per capita in the UK (roughly one takeaway for every 500 people living in the town); and Oswestry is a market town in rural Shropshire, a county whose economy has been traditionally dominated by farming.

After running pilot sessions with colleagues and participants in Oxford, the team are now around halfway through their series.

LEAP Public Engagement Coordinator, Helen Adams, said: “There has been considerable interest in the two-hour sessions which we run in the early evening or at weekends, with most people signing up via Facebook. Throughout the session, our goal is to ensure participants talk more to each other than to the facilitators, and that there is an opportunity for everyone to contribute. So far the focus groups have been a really worthwhile experience, with some revealing dialogues and topics.”

Interested participants are screened before signing up and are reimbursed for their time. For consistency, the focus groups are usually facilitated by the same person, with two other project staff in attendance for support and administration, and the entire session is audio recorded.

Each focus group starts with an orientation activity so that participants can get to know one another and the facilitator can gauge group dynamics, followed by a ‘thought shower’ exercise around stimulus ideas such as ‘what meat means to you’, ‘where you find information about food’, and ‘which of those sources are deemed most trustworthy’. Then, delving into further detail, the format shifts to activity working in pairs to consider meat reduction – regular meat eaters rank the kinds of barriers to meat reduction they consider most difficult to overcome (e.g. social pressure, lack of protein, cost), whilst meat reducers consider why they decided to change their diets, how they achieved this, and what challenges they face in maintaining it.

After a well-deserved break, participants are asked to come up with some messages or strategies that might convince people they know to eat less meat, before placing themselves on a  ‘line of agreement’ to rate how persuasive they find certain messages (e.g. pertaining to health, animal welfare or the environment).

The remainder of the sessions take place in late April and May, with the results analysed and published shortly.

The Livestock, Environment and People (LEAP) project forms part of the Wellcome Trust-funded ‘Our Planet Our Health Programme’. The team are part of the Health Behaviours Theme in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences.

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