Transforming the UK Food System for health, sustainability and equity

Our researchers are actively involved in efforts to transform the UK food system and to understand the impact it has on our health, sustainability and the health of the planet.

The challenge

The UK Food System contributes to poor mental and physical health, unsustainable environmental degradation, and exacerbates health inequalities. The ways in which we produce our food is having negative impacts on the environment, leading to loss of natural spaces, biodiversity, and contributing to climate change.

Unhealthy foods are aggressively marketed to the public and are readily available, contributing to ill-health due to poorer quality diets, malnutrition, and overweight and obesity. In turn these are associated with health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stress, type-2 diabetes and some cancers.

Access to healthy, sustainable food is vital to support good mental and physical health yet this type of food isn’t equally available to all. Some people may struggle to access foods that support their health and well-being, leading to greater health inequalities.

Tackling this and supporting health and well-being for all people and our environment requires a transformational, systems-based approach that understands the big picture and how activities like producing, processing, transporting, acquiring and consuming our food are interlinked with sustainability, our health, and the health of our planet.

Our research

Our researchers work with interdisciplinary research teams, stakeholders, and communities across the UK to identify ways to address these issues.

We use psychological understanding of behaviour, food choices, and the impact of our environment on these, to understand how we might support healthy and sustainable diets in a transformed food system. We work with plant and environmental scientists to understand how growing more fruits and vegetables close to our population centres contributes to dietary quality and well-being through the Rurban Revolution project. Our researchers have produced evidence to support this, and the benefits it could have for sustainability and the wider food system.

We are working with policy stakeholders, using statistical modelling, food choice and intake assessments, and qualitative approaches such as interviews and focus groups to explore and develop interventions to promote people’s intake of sustainable food choices, such as urban-grown food and alternative proteins.

Collaboration is key to understanding the food system itself, but also the lived experiences of people experiencing some of the negative impacts of the current food system and what this means for their health and well-being. Through the FIO-Food Project, our researchers combine expertise in food systems transformation, food insecurity, obesity and the food environment to understand the experiences of people living with obesity, and develop strategies in retail settings to support, healthy, sustainable food choices.

Transformation for health, sustainability and equity requires changing the way we think about our food system. We use interdisciplinary methods and frameworks to identify, test and evaluate opportunities to rethink the system. We do this by combining traditional behavioural research into well-being, eating behaviour and health with action-based research approaches, Citizen Science, and intervention-based work to test the health and sustainability benefits of new food options. This includes research like the BeanMeals project that develops sustainable bean-based food products and explores their impact on diet and sustainability by incorporating them into school meals.

We work collaboratively within the department and wider university. Our research includes a broad range of institutions, public sector bodies, industry, and community stakeholders. Our research is carried out using psychological research laboratories in the Eleanor Rathbone Building, digital research methods such as wide-scale surveys and online focus groups, action-based research in school, community and retail settings, and data modelling.

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