Measures to control the spread of Covid-19 are impacting food systems, household food practices, and organisations supporting vulnerable people in the UK. This qualitative study aims to understand how Covid-19 is affecting local food systems, household food practices and efforts to mitigate dietary health inequalities in the East of England. The findings are from in-depth interviews with approximately 40 households and 30 people involved in community and local authority schemes providing assistance in relation to food.
Our interim findings suggest that Covid-19 and the mitigation measures put in place from March 2020 (e.g. ‘lockdown’ and social distancing) are serving to amplify existing dietary health inequalities. Those who are relatively more secure financially have been able to spend time addressing and improving their dietary health, whereas those struggling financially or in economic hardship have experienced their diets worsening. Older people living alone and/or on low incomes have had to contend with difficulties in accessing food and a lack of opportunities to eat socially. Those with physical impairments and limited mobility sometimes find busy supermarkets potentially hostile and stressful environments and this has been amplified by the instore changes related to Covid-19. Online food shopping has been a particular challenge reported by participants. There was a general perception that food prices have risen since Covid-19 mitigation measures, especially in supermarkets. Participants suggested this was due to a reduction in the availability of food products and special offers.
Across the East of England, locally organised efforts to support and feed people included setting up community funds to supplement the income of organisations working with vulnerable people and with local businesses and partners to organise food supplies. While the Government food parcel scheme focused on feeding those in the shielding category, local authorities worked on supplementing the scheme, where required, by helping to feed and support other vulnerable groups in the community. Food banks have seen a rapid increase in need for their services and have also had to change their operating practices. Some have had to close or change venue and operating hours to accommodate changes to their volunteer base. Despite ongoing difficulties, local groups across the region have devised, adapted and operated a range of schemes to support and feed vulnerable people, tailored to the needs of local residents.
The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on food and eating practices across the East of England in a range of ways. While some groups have been merely inconvenienced, others have had to manage with less healthy food and less money to buy food. The potential of the pandemic to amplify existing dietary health inequalities is a theme that we will continue to explore and report on as our research progresses into 2021. Feedback and recommendations provided by households and organisations thus far are summarised at the end of the interim report. Further recommendations are made in our policy briefings.
External Links: More information about the study, the NIHR ARC and the ‘Prevention and Early Detection in Health and Social Care’ theme can be found here: https://arc-eoe.nihr.ac.uk/research-implementation/research-themes/prevention-and-early-detection-health-and-social-care
Key Publications and Outputs (ongoing):
Thompson, C., Hamilton, L., Dickinson, A., Fallaize, R., Mathie, E., Rogers, S., & Wills, W. (2020) The Impact of Covid-19 and the Resulting Mitigation Measures on Food and Eating in the East of England: Interim Report. Hatfield, UK: University of Hertfordshire. https://doi.org/10.18745/pb.23113
Thompson, C., Hamilton, L., Dickinson, A., Fallaize, R., Mathie, E., Rogers, S., & Wills, W. (2021). The Impact of COVID-19 on Food and Eating in the East of England: Policy Briefings. Hatfield, UK: University of Hertfordshire. Click here to access the policy briefings.
Key Contact: For more information about this research project, please contact Dr Claire Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Dr Laura Hamilton (email@example.com) via email.