To summarise the discussions of a seminar on peer-led approaches to dietary change held at the Food Standards Agency (FSA) on 19 July 2006.
Following presentations on three FSA-commissioned research projects involving peer-led dietary interventions, discussions in small workshop groups identified learning points for researchers, policy-makers and practitioners and considered how the findings of such studies can be effectively communicated to each of these groups. The target groups in the three separate projects were: older people living in sheltered accommodation; mothers and babies during the weaning period; and people with diabetes.
The projects discussed here were quite different from one another, involving three separate populations, having different aims and approaches and different styles of peer leading. Their effectiveness in achieving quantitative dietary change was disappointing. However, results for some of the qualitative outcomes (social, psychological, behavioural) were more positive. Process evaluation, whether built in or post hoc, provided useful learning to inform future projects and potentially improve their effectiveness and usefulness for researchers, policy-makers and health promotion practitioners.
The projects discussed here showed that peer-led interventions can achieve positive changes in outcomes such as knowledge, confidence and attitudes, as well as small improvements in diet. They also demonstrated that there is a need for a more sophisticated analysis of peer-led interventions that recognises the diversity of approaches and their suitability in different situations.