NIHR Obesity Policy Research Unit at UCL


How does the food environment influence the experience of people in weight management services?


How does the food environment influence the experience of people in weight management services? 


To conduct a systematic review of qualitative research to provide insights into (i) how people engaging in weight management experience the food environment; (ii) which aspects of the food environment impact the purchasing and consumption practices of people engaged in weight management; and (iii) what the implications are for policy to support individual weight management and WMS.


Obesity and overweight are major risk factors for preventable morbidity and mortality worldwide, with a widening inequality in obesity rates. Weight loss is associated with reductions in the risk of morbidity and mortality. For this reason and others, many people engage in weight management, either individually or as part of Weight Management Services (WMS). Indeed, 38% of UK adults report trying to lose weight most of the time. People engaged in weight management often experience only short-term maintenance of weight loss due to the myriad challenges they face. One particular challenge is a person’s food environment, which influences how people buy food, the availability, accessibility and affordability of food, as well as media and advertising. Previous qualitative research has demonstrated the challenges people face when trying to achieve a healthier weight either individually or as part of WMS and how the food environment influences food behaviours; however, the specific influence of a person’s food environment on people engaged in weight management has not been explored in detail.

Aims and Methodology

Nine electronic databases (CINAHL, Medline, PsycINFO, Academic Search Complete, Embase, Ovid Emcare, PubMed, Open Grey and BASE) were searched systematically in May 2020 to synthesize the qualitative evidence. Eligible studies were conducted with adults (18+) in high-income countries, available in English and published 2010-2020 with a substantial qualitative element and reference to food environments. Data was analysed using a thematic synthesis approach. Quality assessment using the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme was undertaken.


Nov 2021