A new index developed by researchers at the University of Southampton and NIHR ARC Wessex* reveals neighbourhoods in the north of England have the highest risk of food insecurity.
Published in PLOS ONE, the Food Insecurity Risk Indices can identify risk to a smaller scale than ever before as it not only includes details about the geographical area but also the characteristics of the population.
The Index showed a third of at-risk areas were in the north-west and 96% of those were urban areas including areas such as the Wirral, Blackpool, Stockport, Middlesborough and St Helens.
The researchers say the map and data can be used by local authorities to better target support and help those households most at risk, ensuring their limited budgets are spent in the areas that need it the most.
Dianna Smith, Associate Professor in Geography at the University of Southampton, said: “Food security for households is influenced by multiple factors, from individual circumstances to local access to affordable resources.
“We worked with local governments and charities to create a measure of food insecurity risk in neighbourhoods that captures these barriers. By creating a detailed picture of an area, local authorities and charities can be better informed of where they need to put their resources to help the people most in need. This is particularly important in rural areas where there are pockets of high deprivation amongst areas of affluence.”
One person interviewed by the team as part of the research said: “…the usual churn of people having issues with their benefits, changing benefits, or yeah, life circumstances, crises, partners leaving…. increasing number of people who are just not making ends meet even though they are in some form of employment”
The Index was developed for more than 30,000 neighbourhoods across England with populations between 1,000 to 3,000 people. The index calculates food insecurity risk for all areas based on benefits claimants and low-income at a household level, as well as data on mental health and adult educational attainment. The study also created another index (structural risk) which included data on the obstacles people face when living in those areas, such as distance to large supermarkets where food is cheaper, broadband speed and public transport links. The researchers say this Structural Index is important to provide details of barriers in more rural areas alongside the main Index.
The researchers have made the maps and data freely available at https://www.mylocalmap.org.uk/iaahealth/ to encourage local authorities to be better prepared and provided targeted help and support.
Nisreen Alwan, Professor of Public Health at the University of Southampton and deputy lead for Healthy Communities at NIHR ARC Wessex, added: “Food insecurity in England is not a new social challenge, and while data has been collected about household food insecurity the detail of where more people experience food insecurity is lacking. Where people live is closely linked to their wellbeing and shapes health inequalities. Our work developing a food insecurity risk index for rural and urban settings in England, supported by the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration Wessex, gives local government and charities a tool to target resources and services to help those most at need particularly during this cost of living crisis.”
Notes to editors
The paper is published at https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0267260
NIHR ARC Wessex: National Institute for Health and Social Care Applied Research Collaboration Wessex was established in October 2019 to conduct research to promote the health and wealth of people in Hampshire, Dorset and the Isle of Wight - and beyond.
The table below shows the main Food Insecurity Risk Index and the Structural Risk Index. The researchers say the Structural Risk Index should be used alongside the main risk measure in areas outside of cities. The structural risk measure includes distance to medium or large supermarkets, distance to employment centres of >100 employees, density of bus stops and digital access (download speed), all of which add to the individual risk of food insecurity reflected in the main measure.
Food insecurity risk (Rank)
Structural risk (Rank)