Initial findings from a new study by a team of researchers at the University of Hertfordshire, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration East of England (ARC EoE), has found that COVID-19 and lockdown measures have amplified dietary health inequalities in the East of England region.
- Households who are relatively financially secure have been able to spend time improving their diets during lockdown, whereas those struggling financially or in economic hardship have experienced their diets worsening. Job losses have meant that people in the region have sometimes had to engage with the benefits system and food banks for the first time, both of which were reported to be traumatic and disruptive experiences.
- Those working with families eligible for free school meals reported that substitutes provided during lockdown, where they were available, lacked quality and could be difficult to access.
- Older people in the region have particularly struggled to secure food delivery slots and those with physical impairments and limited mobility have sometimes found supermarkets to be potentially hostile and stressful environments.
- Despite ongoing difficulties, local community groups across the region have devised, adapted and operated a range of schemes to support and feed vulnerable groups of local residents.
- Most local councils do not offer meals on wheels services for older residents, but some have had to start doing so during Covid-19.
- Community groups have expanded food bank operations and set up community funds.
Professor Wendy Wills, Director of the Centre of Research into Public Health and Community Care at the University of Hertfordshire, said: “Increasing demand in supermarkets, panic buying, detrimental impacts on household incomes and social distancing have severely disrupted food practices since the start of the pandemic. While local authorities and community groups stepped up rapidly and innovatively to respond to food security issues over the past few months, there are gaps in the system and lessons to be learned should this be called for again if we experience local lockdowns. Our research will help inform effective and targeted interventions to maintain health and wellbeing and to ensure it is sustained throughout this crisis period and beyond.”
For more information on the research, visit the University of Hertfordshire website.