Overview of the process for determining whether the research program arm of the Food Policy Program will fund a national policy evaluation
Goals of the Food Policy Program: building a global tool kit for national policies
Billions of children and adults have suboptimal diets that impact weight status and risks of diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and 13 of the 15 most prevalent cancers. This is a significant global concern that most countries have neglected for decades. The Food Policy Program (FPP) of Bloomberg Philanthropies is tackling this by raising public awareness of the problem, facilitating adoption and implementation of innovative and impactful policies, and ultimately determining which policies work best to improve diets. Based on existing evidence and feedback from global experts, the FPP identified and prioritized the policy areas noted below. These are innovative policies with promise of meaningful impacts, especially when implemented simultaneously. The policies include:
- Mandatory front-of-package labels to help consumers identify unhealthy foods and choose healthier alternatives;
- Taxes on unhealthy beverages and foods/ultra-processed foods (UPFs);
- Comprehensive restrictions on marketing for unhealthy foods and beverages, particularly to children; and
- Improvements to the food environment in public sector facilities through procurement policies and marketing restrictions, with an emphasis on schools.
The FPP aims to create an understanding of national policies that work to improve diets in low- and middle-income countries and to inform policy considerations across these regions: Latin America and the Caribbean; Sub-Saharan Africa; the Middle East and North Africa; Central Asia; and South, Southeast, and East Asia. Funded evaluations must include Bloomberg’s policy foci and affect large populations (i.e., countries).
The types of outcomes and methods to evaluate them depend on the policy and can range from examining changes in the food environment (e.g., price, product formulation, advertising exposure, or marketing content), food purchases, dietary intakes, behaviors, attitudes, or knowledge. Similarly, acceptable methods vary so long as they are suitable to the research question, including longitudinal or repeated cross-sectional analyses of dietary intake data, cohort studies, household food purchase data, analyses of other secondary data on the food environment (e.g., the food supply, food marketing, food packaging), surveys, and qualitative research (interviews or focus groups). The gold standard to date is analysis of representative samples of daily food purchases.
Policy efforts must fit the FPP’s goals to be considered for evaluation
Priority will be given to mandatory, national policies, including: fiscal policies, front-of-package labels, comprehensive marketing controls, major improvements in public sector food environments (especially schools), or other unique national programs aimed at increasing access to or consumption of healthy foods (e.g., unprocessed or minimally processed legumes, fruits, vegetables, whole grains).
In addition, we will consider the size of the population likely to be impacted by the policy and the uniqueness of the policy (nature and design of the policy, geographic region). The uniqueness of the policy is critical. Proposals selected for funding must be methodologically rigorous with strong potential to meaningfully and measurably impact the country or region and inform other countries. This can be regional or global, but must be able to have a global contribution.
Queries about this process should be emailed to email@example.com. This includes the first and second step of the proposal. UNC-Chapel Hill’s Global Food Research Program is functioning as the management center for considering these proposals. To be considered for funding, please review the process outlined below in detail.
The 2-step proposal process
Step 1: Concept note
Applicants first submit a concept note — a short proposal that is reviewed primarily for policy fit, to assess the policy’s legal and regulatory rigor, and to appraise its potential impacts, contribution to the literature, and their anticipated equity and distribution. This concept note will answer a few questions about the regulation to be evaluated and will provide high-level information about the research project and team. The review panel will consist of global advocacy experts. The research team will be notified within one month of the panel’s decision, and if the concept note is approved, the team can then submit a full proposal. (See Step 2 below.)
Criteria for accepting a concept note and requesting a full proposal:
- Policy fit, that is, fiscal policies, front-of-package labels, comprehensive marketing controls, and major improvements in school food programs and school food or other public sector environments.
- Legal and regulatory rigor of the policy and its implementation probability given the regulatory climate and other relevant contexts
- Uniqueness of the policy globally and regionally, that is, its difference from other existing policies that already have been or are being evaluated
- For example, the proposed policy is significantly stronger than or different from previous similar policies, includes new elements, or is implemented for the first time in a new region.
- Potential policy impact outcomes noted earlier, such as population size and potential impact on ultra-processed food and beverage purchases
- If the concept note is approved, the team will describe the types and modes of outcome measures in the full proposal, Step 2. (See below.)
- Anticipated equity and distribution of impacts
We recommend submitting the concept note when a proposed policy or regulation is highly likely to be implemented. For this first step, the reviewers will focus on the probability that the concept will add significantly to our global knowledge of policy impacts.
Download Step 1 application
Step 2: Full proposal
If invited, the research team will submit a longer policy evaluation proposal for review for policy fit and scientific rigor. The review panel will include one member from the FPP’s Evaluation Advisory Committee (EAC), an independent body of scientific experts on global food policy, and two additional reviewers from the Global South with relevant expertise in healthy food policy. These three reviewers will present in-depth assessments to the full EAC for discussion. The EAC will discuss and make the final determination of funding and the level of funding. They may request significant revisions before a final decision is made. Research teams must have no conflicts of interest (COI) during the previous 5 years. COI’s include funding and collaboration with either the tobacco or the food sector companies or bodies they fund (e.g., International Life Science Institute). The research team will receive notification whether the proposal is funded in 1 to 2 months. The reviewers may also ask the research team to revise and resubmit the proposal before they make a final funding decision.
Criteria for assessing research evaluation proposals:
- Will an evaluation of this regulation advance our global understanding of what works to create healthier diets by reducing purchase and/or consumption of UPFs?
- Does the evaluation assess the distribution and equity implications of the policy’s impact?
- Will the evaluation contribute to policy advocacy?
- Does the evaluation have a strong methodological design?
- Does the proposed team have the ability to deliver results in a timely fashion?
- Does the proposed budget seem to align well with the proposed evaluation effort?
It is expected that evaluations will be published in peer-reviewed literature and that funded research groups will engage in the dissemination, including potentially with media, of published work. The Food Policy Program can support dissemination efforts as needed.
Each element of the review process will be graded with a score of 1 (excellent) to 5 (weak). Based on these scores, the top proposals with overall scores below 3 will be discussed. The reviewers will be provided the elements to be scored. All queries should go to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Role of the Global Food Research Program at UNC-Chapel Hill
The Global Food Research Program (GFRP) will help coordinate the effort in an ex officio capacity and may collaborate with teams to develop and submit their proposals if that is of interest. However, GRFP personnel will not participate in the review or decision-making processes related to the final selection of policies to be evaluated. GFRP personnel may meet and assist the country team and the GFRP team may be collaborators if the applicant researchers wish.
Download Step 2 application