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Wessex DIET: Determining the Impact of covid-19 on food sEcurity in young families and Testing interventions

Joint Lead: Dr Nisreen Alwan and Dr Dianna Smith.

Co Applicants: Nida Ziauddeen, Tim Lloyd, Dr Marta Disegna, Ravita Taheem, Sally Shillaker, Fran Richards, Duncan House, Sara Crawford.

Partners: Southampton City Council, University of Southampton, Bournemouth University, Solent NHS Trust.

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Lay Summary

Aim of the research: We will explore the impact of system shocks on food security, diet quality and health in young families across Wessex, using the covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns as an example of such shocks. We will find out if Council-supported food aid initiatives to counter difficulties around adequate and healthy diet are acceptable, well taken-up and impactful in local populations. This will lead to a toolkit that can be used by Councils to decide which initiatives are best for their populations.

Background: The covid-19 pandemic restrictions are likely to have negatively impacted UK families in many ways, including food insecurity (not having enough food because of cost or other barriers, or not having good quality food). Food insecurity has negative health impacts in the short-term including weight gain, malnutrition, poor mental health; these may lead to longer term health outcomes including obesity, diabetes, anxiety, and depression. Local Councils in Wessex have a range of initiatives to help this situation, including food pantries, where eligible families can purchase a range of items at a greatly reduced price, and recipe boxes.

Design and methods During this 2-year project we will: Use statistical modelling to explore the effect of the covid-19 pandemic on important aspects of health and wellbeing in Wessex’s families with children under age 12, including their diet quality, food availability, weight status and mental health. Interview families to explore how they coped with the changing social and economic circumstances during the pandemic particularly in relation to their food quality and purchasing behaviours, Work with the local Councils in Southampton and Dorset to evaluate the initiatives to improve diet in disadvantaged families including food pantries.

Public Patient Involvement: We involved public contributors in the design of this research through three meetings with 12 contributors overall. We have a public contributor as a co-applicant. Our PPI activities will ensure the interventions reflect the individual needs of young families in the target groups, and that the outreach activities to support the interventions are properly communicated. We already have ongoing public engagement activities involving Sure Start within our existing ARC project which we will continue to utilise. We have and willcontinue to actively involve people on the frontline of food aid systems in shaping this research.

Dissemination: We will produce an implementation toolkit for Councils to aid decision-making on food-aid initiatives. Non-academic outputs will be specific to the audience and will include videos, presentations, social media posts and flyers. For public health/councils, short reports on the findings in the form of policy briefs will add to academic content and presentations. We will follow successful models like the oral health posters to Family Hubs delivered by Solent Health.