Children's health and food

Families and food

22 June 2018

How the environment influences what families eat

In brief

There is growing evidence suggesting obesity is ‘a normal response to an abnormal environment’ that gives us easier access to a wider variety of highly palatable, energy dense food than ever before. This food is cheap and widely promoted, both in the media and in stores. As a result, we’ve commissioned ethnographic research to explore the influence of inequality in inner city environments on local families’ food behaviours, from the perspective of local families.


Executive summary

London has more overweight and obese children than any other major global city, and the boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark encapsulate why. These boroughs are densely populated, have high population churn, high rates of income inequality and a complex social and ethnic mix. One in four children aged four to five living in these boroughs are overweight or obese, rising to two in five by the time they reach secondary school. The differences in rates between the most deprived and least deprived wards are more than double.

This report is structured into five chapters. Each chapter represents one of the five key themes identified in the research underpinning the final framework:

  1. Environmental Nudges – focuses on how the physical environment of the home and street environments nudges families towards certain food behaviours
  2. Healthy Headspace – examines what food is available in the local areas and what food is considered desirable by parents experiencing a lack of resources (time, money, energy)
  3. Creatures of Habit – outlines families’ food habits observed in the research and the role of the home and street environment in habit formation and disruption
  4. Social Influences – explores the influence of family, friends and peers on young people’s food behaviours
  5. Inclusive Regeneration – looks at families’ attitude towards regeneration and the impact of regeneration on food environments

Childhood obesity in Lambeth and Southwark

1 in 4

children aged 4-5 are overweight or obese

2 in 5

children are overweight or obese by secondary school

2 x

childhood obesity is twice as prevalent in the least affluent wards as the most
Donna, mother of one, on local food options and affordability

In collaboration with

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Read the 'Families and food' report