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Can city dwellers take control of their own nutrition and cardiovascular health?

2 May 2017

Photovoice Villaverde

Brussels, May 2, 2017 - Cardiovascular disease is the main cause of death worldwide, and obesity is a global health crisis. With European Obesity Day coming up May 20th,  Manuel Franco, Spanish researcher and Principal Investigator of the Heart Healthy Hoods research project, brings his ‘Photovoice’  photo project to the European Parliament, May 4-10, 2017. The inspirational photo project has brought together researchers, citizens and policymakers to improve healthy eating in cities.

How does where you live affect your diet?

We all know that good nutrition is important for good health. But what if you live in a neighbourhood that doesn’t always provide enough healthy food for everyone? What if you don’t have the money to improve the way you eat?

Power to the People

Grab a camera, and start photographing the good, the bad and the ugly — the food in your neighbourhood — focusing on the availability, price and variety of healthy food.

That’s what a group of 24 residents from Villaverde, an underserved neighbourhood in Madrid did. Manuel Franco invited them, along with researchers from the University of Alcalá and public health practitioners from the Madrid Health Department, to participate in his research project as co-researchers. These local citizens had never done anything like this before; their professions include ‘retired,’ ‘unemployed’ and  ‘housewife,’ and many were middle-aged or elderly. Yet, through this project they were emboldened to improve their own diets and that of their community.

Photos Give Citizens a Voice

First, these citizen scientists gathered data in the form of 163 photos; then they held meetings over the course of three months to discuss and debate them under themes such as ‘Poverty and Crisis,’ ‘Ageing,’ and ‘Eating with Moderation’; finally they chose 30 photos to represent their main concerns about food in their city; and in the end, they were empowered to draw up 16 concrete policy recommendations that they presented to local authorities, including:

-      Improving local leisure facilities, to avoid consumption of energy-dense and nutrition-poor foods.

-      Improving food bank management, to ensure better access to fresh foods for those in most need.

-      Encouraging more traditional markets and small food retailers, to improve availability of healthy and affordable foods.

Manuel Franco: Associate Professor, Division of Epidemiology and Public Health School of Medicine, University of Alcalá, Spain and Adjunct Faculty at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Franco´s work focuses on the epidemiology and prevention of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and its major risk factors. He studies how different social characteristics relate to CVD, and CVD risk factors such as dietary patterns, hypertension, diabetes and obesity.

He has spent over a decade in the US and Europe studying how the places where people live affect their cardiovascular health. His interdisciplinary research group of epidemiologists, geographers, sociologists, and primary health care professionals is measuring urban characteristics directly related to eating patterns, physical activity levels, smoking and alcohol consumption. He is particularly interested in food environments and the risk of CVD.

‘The Heart Healthy Hoods project aims to measure the impact of the physical and social urban environment in relation to residents’ cardiovascular health in Madrid. Spain,’ says Dr Franco. ‘To improve nutrition in an urban environment, it’s key to involve citizens. ‘Photovoice’ is a terrific citizen science methodology to engage local residents with researchers and policymakers to improve population health.’  


Photovoice Exhibition at the European Parliament

  • Dates: May 4-10, 2017
  • Place: Mezzanine YEHUDI MENUHIN, PHS building 1st Floor, European Parliament
  • Official Press/Public Opening: Thursday May 4th at noon, registration at 11:30
  • Open to the Public: May 4-10, 2017
  • Contact: Manuel Franco, PhD, MD (+34) 91 822 22 03 / (+34) 680 62 79 78
  • Media Contact: Diane Fresquez +32-496-613026

The exhibition is hosted by Estefanía Torres MEP: ‘It’s a pleasure to give visibility to this participatory project focusing on the right of the citizen to a healthy diet. The fight for food sovereignty is an important debate, and this exhibition explains this topic in a very original way.’

Queuing for sardines. Photo: Juani Moreno, 46, housewife. 'Due to the economic crisis, many popular festivals [in the area] have been canceled. However, different social initiatives are still organised by the neighbours in the community. This poor little old man really did touch me…waiting for a long time, just to eat one sardine with us.'


Manuel Franco's research is among several studies into food and nutrition that have been funded over the past decade by the European Research Council, the EU’s premiere agency for frontier research. More on other ERC grantees can be found in a series of reports on food on ERC=Science², an initiative to communicate the results of the agency’s research. 

About the European Research Council

The ERC's mission is to encourage the highest quality research in Europe through competitive funding and to support investigator-driven frontier research across all fields, on the basis of scientific excellence. The ERC expects that its grants will help to bring about new and unpredictable scientific and technological discoveries - the kind that can form the basis of new industries, markets, and broader social innovations of the future. ERC grants are awarded through open competition to projects headed by starting and established researchers, irrespective of their origins, who are working or moving to work in Europe. The sole criterion for selection is scientific excellence.

For more information go to ERC=Science² 


Free downloadable Photobook (Spanish & English)

Video of the Photovoice Villaverde project

Interactive map




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