PhD Position on “Commercial food & alcohol marketing and its effects on health: Leveraging AI & social networks to understand differentials in exposure and health-risks across Belgian and Dutch consumers”

Updated: 2 months ago
Deadline: 30 Apr 2023

PhD Position on “Commercial food & alcohol marketing and its effects on health: Leveraging AI & social networks to understand differentials in exposure and health-risks across Belgian and Dutch consumers”
PhD Position on “Commercial food & alcohol marketing and its effects on health: Leveraging AI & social networks to understand differentials in exposure and health-risks across Belgian and Dutch consumers”
Published Deadline Location
23 Mar 30 Apr Maastricht

Who is most exposed to digital advertisements about unhealthy foods & alcohol ? Does this exposure lead to meaningful behavioural changes ? Are these changes more pronounced in specific socio-demographic groups, such as young children, adolescents, new mothers, women of childbearing age or people suffering from poor mental health ? What is the cost of these behavioural changes in terms of quality adjusted life years ? If these questions interest you, then please keep on reading…
Job description

You will work as a joint PhD candidate within the Department of Data Analytics and Digitalisation Maastricht University's School of Business and Economics (SBE), and the Unit of Nutrition and Health within the Service of Health information at the Belgian public-health authority `Sciensano’. You will gain access to and contribute to DAD and SBE’s international network of renowned scientists, and you will also be part of the Graduate School of Business and Economics (GSBE) which coordinates SBE’s PhD programme. As part of Sciensano, you will be able to contribute to ongoing work and discussions on  regulating marketing of unhealthy foods and alcohol in Belgium.

Your PhD research will be part of the research agenda on food environments and health that Sciensano developed over the last years.We are looking for a PhD researcher interested in spending 4 years collecting and analysing data relating to exposure to digital advertisements about unhealthy commodities such as junk-food and alcohol, understanding how these exposures impact behaviour and what the cost of these behavioural changes is in terms of quality adjusted life years.

Moreover, we are interested in using the results of this research to inform policy and develop policy recommendations on how to tackle digital advertisements for unhealthy commodities, especially as it pertains to the targeting of vulnerable populations by companies. The PhD researcher would work on generating new knowledge on this topic, and providing evidence-based policy recommendations in the common interest of the citizens of the EU, and Belgium and the Netherlands in particular. 

  • max. 38 hours per week
  • €2541—€3245 per month
  • Maastricht View on Google Maps

Maastricht University (UM)


Minimum Qualifications:

  • Masters degree in statistics, biostatistics, (bio)engineering, epidemiology, mathematics or physics, computational social / data sciences or in a related field with evidence of interest in statistical and computational methods ; 
  • Strong coding skills with R or Python / Julia ; 
  • Basic understanding of AI tools such as large language models and computer vision;
  • Experience with digital trace data ; 
  • Strong statistical understanding of regression models, regularization, sampling theory, statistical power, and other elements of statistical learning ; 
  • Interest in the field of public health and health policy

Desired Qualifications: 

  • Experience in using APIs to leverage pre-trained AI models, as well as to download large-scale social-media data  ; 
  • Experience dealing with unstructured data ;
  • Knowledge of Bayesian methods – ability to code in OpenBUGS, JAGS and / or Stan ; 
  • Knowledge of Dutch and/of French is a plus ;
  • Interest in working in the realm of health and health-related commodities 

Generic competencies:

  • Good academic writing skills ;
  • Excellent spoken and written English ;
  • Excellent communicative skills, teamplayer, enjoy a multi-disciplinary environment 


Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: 4 years.

  • We offer a full-time employment contract as a PhD candidate for 4 years. Teaching will be expected for 20 % of the time. Research will be required at the two venues, both Maastricht University and Sciensano (Tervuren, Belgium), the main location to be decided with the applicant.
  • We offer a rewarding career at a young university in the heart of Europe, with a distinct global perspective and a strong focus on innovative research and education, embedded in a strong team and excellent consortium;
  • De arbeidsvoorwaarden van de Universiteit Maastricht zijn grotendeels vastgelegd in de CAO Nederlandse Universiteiten. Daarnaast gelden lokale bepalingen, specifiek voor de UM. Voor meer informatie zie de website:  > Over de UM > Werken bij de UM; 
  • The salary will be set in the PhD-candidate salary scale of the Collective Labor Agreement for Dutch Universities (€2.541 gross per month in the first year up to €3.247 gross per month in the fourth year). On top of this, there is an 8% holiday allowance and a 8.3% year-end allowance.
  • We offer an attractive package of fringe benefits such as reduction on collective health insurance, substantial leave arrangements, optional model for designing a personalized benefits package and application for attractive fiscal arrangements for employees from abroad.

Maastricht University

Maastricht University is renowned for its unique, innovative, problem-based learning system, which is characterized by a small-scale and student-oriented approach. Research at UM is characterized by a multidisciplinary and thematic approach, and is concentrated in research institutes and schools. Maastricht University has around 22,000 students and 5,000 employees. Reflecting the university's strong international profile, a fair amount of both students and staff are from abroad. The university hosts 6 faculties: Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Faculty of Law, School of Business and Economics, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience.
For more information, visit .

Data Analytics and Digitalisation

Data Analytics and Digitalisation (School of Business and Economics, Maastricht University) and the Unit of Nutrition and Health as part of the Service of Health Information at Sciensano, Belgium) join forces for this project.

The department of Data Analytics and Digitalisation (DAD) connects data science (mathematics, statistics, computer science, artificial intelligence) with business and economics research (finance, accounting, marketing, information management, operations, micro- and macroeconomics, policy design). We are responsible for conducting top-level research in data science for business and economics ranging from fundamental theoretical studies to applied industrial projects.

Sciensano is a Belgian public health institution where science and health are central to its mission. Sciensano’s strength and uniqueness lie within the holistic and multidisciplinary approach to health. More particularly we focus on the close and indissoluble interconnection between human and animal health and their environment (the “One health” concept). By combining different research perspectives within this framework, Sciensano contributes in its unique way to everybody’s health. For this, Sciensano builds on the more than 100 years of scientific expertise of the former Veterinary and Agrochemical Research Centre (CODA-CERVA) and the ex-Scientific Institute of Public Health (WIV-ISP). The Nutrition and Health Unit as part of the Service of Health Information at Sciensano supports the development and implementation of nutrition policies at local, national and international levels to effectively and equitably improve the quality of population diets, and ensure equitable access to healthy foods for all.

The Unit has an interest in the role of food environments, including food marketing in determining people’s dietary habits and how to hold governments and food businesses to account for their actions to create healthy food environments to effectively reduce obesity.

Additional information

More information on this vacancy can be obtained from:
Dr. Roberto Cerina, email

To apply at this vacancy, press the button ‘apply now’ to see the application procedure.

Maastricht University is committed to promoting and nurturing a diverse and inclusive community. We believe that diversity in our staff and student population contributes to the quality of research and education at UM, and strive to enable this through inclusive policies and innovative projects led by teams of staff and students. We encourage you to apply for this position.

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Application procedure

Please apply by May 1, 2023, by sending the following information to:

  • Curriculum Vitae (CV)
  • Motivation letter indicating your research interests and experience
  • Candidates are encouraged to share their GitHub repository in their email, or other repositories for computational projects to which they have been a part of.
  • Candidates are encouraged to share a writing sample

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