National Obesity Awareness Week

The link between poverty and unhealthy eating

It’s National Obesity Awareness week, 14 – 20 January. Obesity can lead to many serious health conditions. That is why Hackney CVS is working with Hackney Council on a 5-year plan to promote healthy eating and reduce childhood obesity.

The impacts of being either under or overweight can have far reaching consequences for the health and wellbeing of individuals and families. The proportion of people who are overweight or obese continues to increase.

We spoke to Kristine Wellington, Head of Safeguarding, Children and Families at Hackney CVS, about the link between poverty and unhealthy eating.

How is poverty linked to unhealthy eating?

If you’re poor that can affect you in many ways. The basic family is trying to provide food, clothing and shelter for their children. Sometimes parents are buying cheap fast food from street outlets because of fuel poverty – they can’t afford to cook at home.

What are the challenges we need to understand while working with local communities?

Very often people are poor in terms of knowledge – they do not know the impact of buying convenience food, for example the fact that it’s heavily dosed with salt. Social media and the television are marketing quick meals, which makes the situation worse.

Another difficult reality for people working low income and multiple jobs is that they don’t have the time or energy to cook healthy meals.

There is also a link between eating and cultural values. Many people from poor countries, especially in refugee communities, value fatness as a sign of wealth. They say that a chubby child is a healthy child.

We are working with the UK perspective but people who have been targeted to address healthy eating are from the whole range of communities and I think it’s important that we understand these communities and their cultural values around food and weight.

What should we consider if we want to influence change?

Let’s put obesity in brackets because it serves a narrow audience. It’s better to talk about healthy eating because it embraces everyone. There is social value in having healthy lifestyle.

We need to recognise realities – for example organic food is outside the purse of people who are poor. We need to get to stage where healthy food is affordable for people who need it.

We have to think about what to do about the number of fast food chicken and chips shops. I don’t see any of them when I’m in Mayfair or near Harrods – unhealthy food is put in poor neighbourhoods.

From my experience we need to have more bite size awareness programmes that enable people to be aware of how they can adopt a healthy lifestyle and healthy eating – that will support the people we are working with to find healthy solutions for themselves.

Contact: Kristine Wellington,

Healthy Returns report

Healthy Returns, published in November 2018 by Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, says:

  • Rates of childhood obesity in the UK continue to rise, with over a third of children now leaving primary school obese or overweight;
  • People’s eating behaviour is strongly affected by their environments; and those living in more deprived areas are typically faced with higher volumes of unhealthy food options when they step out their door, with less money and headspace to find healthy alternatives;
  • Purchasing trends show that whilst all families spend most of their food budget in supermarkets, the food offer that is most accessible to families on the lowest incomes often has low nutritional value.

Read the report here.

People working low income and multiple jobs... don’t have the time or energy to cook healthy meals.

Kristine Wellington