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The University of Southampton

English neighbourhoods which have less-healthy diets

Published: 24 June 2021
unhealthy food
Photo by Caleb Oquendo from Pexels

A new analysis identifies neighbourhoods within England where consumption of fruits, vegetables, and sugar-sweetened beverages by adults is estimated to differ significantly from recommendations.

These areas may benefit from targeted approaches to improve diet. Dr Dianna Smith of the University of Southampton, U.K., and colleagues present the findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Previous research has employed mathematical modelling to estimate dietary habits of the adult population of England. However, finer-scale investigations are needed to reveal estimated dietary habits at the level of individual neighbourhoods.

To address this need, Dr Smith and her team drew on data collected in a national survey in which English adults aged 16 and over recorded all of the food and beverages they consumed over a period of four days. The researchers applied a mathematical modelling method to the data, which included matching survey participants’ demographics to that of English neighbourhoods. This enabled them to estimate adults’ dietary habits in 6,791 neighbourhoods across England.

The analysis found that an estimated 6.9 percent of English adults consume less than one portion of fruit, vegetables, or 100-percent juice per day, and an estimated 11.5 percent of adults drink more than 330 millilitres, or one typical can, of sugar-sweetened beverages per day. These portions differ significantly from guideline recommendations.

Certain neighbourhoods had particularly low consumption of fruits and vegetables, high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, or both combined. Neighbourhoods in this combined group were mostly in urban parts of northern England, the south coast, and in inner-city London - including urban areas in Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, and Bristol, as well as the London Boroughs of Islington, Newham, Hackney, and Tower Hamlets.

These findings could help inform targeted policies and resource allocation to improve diet and health across England. In particular, the researchers say, dietary improvement efforts should prioritise parts of London, as well as urban neighbourhoods in some southern coastal cities and in northern England. Targeted strategies, such as vouchers for fruit and vegetables in areas where consumption is low, could ultimately reduce health inequalities.

Dr Smith said, “We hope that this modelling will be taken up in local authorities to help identify areas where interventions to improve diet are most urgently needed. There are clear estimated spatial inequalities in diet across England, that will contribute to ongoing differences in health in the population.”

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