University of Sheffield study shows areas where people struggle to access food

The University of Sheffield has mapped out areas in the UK where residents most struggle to afford or access food. Credit: PA Images

The majority of local authorities in Yorkshire and the Humber are in the top 20% of places where adults are going hungry, according to a new study from the University of Sheffield.

It has mapped out areas in the UK where residents most struggle to afford or access food.

For the first time researchers were able to identify food insecurity at local authority scale across three categories, from those experiencing hunger, to those just one emergency away from going without a meal.

Almost half of local areas and in Yorkshire and the Humber had very high percentages of people who were hungry in January. Researchers hope the study will help local authorities and government agencies address the problem.

One in 10 local authorities see this rate almost doubled.

According to data from the Food Foundation, in January 2021, 4.2% of adults across the UK reported that during the previous month they had been hungry but unable to eat at least once, but the problem is much worse in some places with nearly one out of every 10 adults going hungry.

This new analysis of the national data collected during the pandemic goes further to assess the problem at a local authority level and breaks down experiences of food insecurity into three distinct groups, mapping them for the first time:

  • Those who are hungry include people who indicated that they were hungry but were unable to eat food because they could not afford it, or were unable to access food in the previous month.

  • Those who are struggling to access food, include those who may have sought help within the last month with access to food, have cut back on meals and healthy foods to stretch tight budgets, or indicated that they struggled to access food in some way. In some places the rate is as high as 28 per cent of adults.

  • Those who worry about food insecurity or being able to continue to supply adequate food for their household. These people may be just about managing but could slip into food insecurity as a result of an unexpected crisis.

  • What is food insecurity?

Food insecurity is the inability to consistently afford, access and use the food needed to maintain good health and wellbeing. The problem has become well known in recent years due to the rise in reporting on food bank usage in the UK; the Food Foundation has been tracking household food insecurity UK-wide showing more people living with the daily effects of poor diets and limited food access.

  • How do you measure it?

Typically measures of moderate and severe food insecurity use three indicators: skipping meals for a whole day or more, not having enough food and going hungry, and shrinking or skipping meals with 7.4 per cent of adults reported one or more of these experiences in the one month running up to January 2021.

This new analysis of the data shows how not everyone living with food insecurity experiences hunger on the same level, making apparent that an alarmingly large number of people also actively plan to go without food to make ends meet, or worry about doing so. The burden of these forms of food insecurity also immediately threatens people’s health and wellbeing.

For some, living on the edge of food insecurity may mean an event such as a car or boiler breakdown or an unexpected illness, could be the tipping point that squeezes their food budget, and they have to plan to eat less, or skip meals altogether.

This in turn can be linked to higher rates of illness and obesity due to people buying cheaper foods, which store longer and are more filling, over healthier choices.