UCL Division of Medicine



22 November 2017

Food Poverty is a major public health concern. Its chief symptom is the number of people attending Foodbanks to receive emergency food aid. The largest Foodbank charity, the Trussell Trust, has reported that in the first 6 months of this year, referrals were up by 13% to 587,000 people, including 209,000 children.

Division of Medicine researchers, working together with others from the Universities of Southampton, Bath and Bedfordshire, surveyed 270 people attending Foodbanks in 3 London Boroughs with a control group of 245 from Advice Centres.

The main finding was that welfare-related issues were the most common reason to seek help. Nearly all Foodbank clients suffered from food insecurity, that is the inability to eat sufficient, acceptable meals, as did three-quarters of Advice Centre clients. The main reason for Foodbank referral was that clients were not receiving benefits due to ‘sanction’ or payment delay. This was against a background of adverse life-events and “financial strain”. Surprisingly, being a younger man was a major risk factor for referral.

This situation is one of “acute-on-chronic”. The chronic factors included financial strain, long-term sickness, disability or unemployment exacerbated by acute crisis.

The research team were struck by reports, from three-quarters of Foodbank users, that they were hungry but did not eat due to lack of money.

UCL has always led in issues of significance to the nutritional health of the nation. Dr Jack Drummond, the first Professor of Biochemistry at UCL and former Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences, was the wartime Scientific Advisor to the Ministry of Food, which introduced food-rationing on the basis of his "sound nutritional principles".

This study is part of a PhD supervised by Drs George Grimble (Division of Medicine), Mary Barker (University of Southampton), Sarah Chapman (University of Bath), and Dr Angel Chater (UCL and University of Bedfordshire). The student, Edwina Prayogo ably co-supervised two Division of Medicine MSc Nutrition students, Nurul Rahmawati and Tom Waterfall and this is the 4th MSc project for 7 students on this theme which has been funded by UCL Grand Challenges, UCL Division of Medicine and John Avanzini Ministries.