University of Exeter funding: QUEX PhD Studentship

Are healthy diets really more expensive than unhealthy diets? Understanding drivers of choice of healthy and unhealthy food and drinks in Australia and the UK. PhD Medicine, PhD Studentship (Funded by the QUEX Institute) Ref: 3902

About the award


Lead Supervisor: Richard Smith, Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor and Professor of Health Economics, University of Exeter,

Second Supervisor: Amanda Lee, Professor Public Health Policy,School of Public Health, University of Queensland,

Join a world-leading, cross-continental research team

The University of Exeter and the University of Queensland are seeking exceptional students to join a world-leading, cross-continental research team tackling major challenges facing the world’s population in global sustainability and wellbeing as part of the QUEX Institute. The joint PhD programme provides a fantastic opportunity for the most talented doctoral students to work closely with world-class research groups and benefit from the combined expertise and facilities offered at the two institutions, with a lead supervisor within each university. This prestigious programme provides full tuition fees, stipend, travel funds and research training support grants to the successful applicants.  The studentship provides funding for up to 42 months (3.5 years).

Eight generous, fully-funded studentships are available for the best applicants, four offered by the University of Exeter and four by the University of Queensland. This select group will spend at least one year at each University and will graduate with a joint degree from the University of Exeter and the University of Queensland.

Find out more about the PhD studentships

Successful applicants will have a strong academic background and track record to undertake research projects based in one of the three themes of:  Healthy Living, Global Environmental Futures and Digital Worlds and Disruptive Technologies.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 31 August 2020 (BST), with interviews taking place week commencing 12 October 2020.  The start date is expected to be April 2021.

Please note that of the eight Exeter led projects advertised, we expect that up to four studentships will be awarded to Exeter based students.

Project Description

There is a popular perception, based on some evidence, that healthy food costs more than unhealthy food, and since price is a major determinant of demand, that addressing this price imbalance will rebalance consumption of healthy versus unhealthy foods. This has been the rationale behind the high-profile rise of various ‘fat tax’ and ‘sugar tax’ initiatives in recent years. 

However, when the cost of the whole diet is considered, evidence from Australia found that healthy diets could be less expensive than current (unhealthy) diets. There is concern, also, that taxing specific products does not necessarily lead to overall healthier dietary patterns. These observations cast doubt on the relative importance of price as the critical driver of food choice in the context of the whole diet, and this remains a significant gap in evidence underlying related health and fiscal policies. The assumption from which this study departs is that demand is affected not only by price but also by consumers’ knowledge, attitudes, behaviours, and socio-demographic characteristics, as well as by food availability. 

Prices are key contributors for demand, and while some evidence backs the popular perception that some healthy food items are more expensive than their unhealthy counterparts, studies of the total cost of diets, rather than foods per se, may be required given the challenges around study design and statistical coupling that affect some approaches. Under Australian fiscal policy settings, healthy diets can be up to 15% less expensive than unhealthy diets. 

Prices are not the only factor shaping food demand. Therefore, the analysis will also consider additional elements, such as access, food preferences and values, ‘taste’, food literacy, ability to prepare and store foods, perceptions of ‘healthiness’ etc. Consumer attitudes may be responsible for many of the final food choices made. Those attitudes are affected by culture and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as by marketing strategies, and other environmental conditions.  

The aim of this project is to add to the evidence base around food and diet costs and drivers of food choice.  Specifically to: (i) establish if the findings in Australia are unique or replicated elsewhere, in this case the UK; (ii) establish the relative importance of price as a driver for food choice vis other factors of known importance (income, price of other products, convenience, access, knowledge, preferences etc.) in a cross-country comparison. These will be unique contributions to the literature in this area.

Entry requirements

• Applicants should be highly motivated and have, or expect to obtain, either a first or upper-second class BA or BSc (or equivalent) in either economics or a relevant social science subject area.

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the English language requirements and provide proof of proficiency. Click here for more information and a list of acceptable alternative tests.

How to apply

You will be asked to submit some personal details and upload a full CV, supporting statement, academic transcripts and details of two academic referees. Your supporting statement should outline your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake this project, with particular reference to the collaborative nature of the partnership with the University of Queensland, and how this will enhance your training and research.

Applicants who are chosen for interview will be notified week commencing 5 October 2020, and must be available for interview week commencing 12 October 2020.

Please quote reference 3902 on your application and in any correspondence about this studentship.


Application deadline:31st August 2020
Value:Full tuition fees, stipend of £15,000 p.a, travel funds of up to £15,000, and RTSG of £15,000 are available over the 3.5 year studentship
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Office