Children's health and food

Understanding Southwark’s food experience

10 December 2019

Food systems and public life insight report

In brief

This study outlines findings on: 1. the character of places young people spend the most time, 2. the role of transport hubs in everyday public life and 3. the way in which fast food places have become civic beacons for all. Through understanding where and how young people use the foodscape, we can design, programme, and create invitations that promote new opportunities and behaviours.


Executive summary

The Mayor of London has shown commitment to tackling obesity in London, with focus on the growing rates of childhood obesity. There is increasing knowledge on the diverse factors that influence obesity, and for this reason Impact on Urban Health has been funding projects and initiatives that holistically combat childhood obesity.

The onus of the increasingly global obesity epidemic has traditionally been put on individual people. However, more recently, research has identified the role our environment and historic urban planning practices have played in growing obesity trends.

Gehl’s approach to studying public life and public space can expand knowledge within current systems thinking approaches by interpreting the factors that influence how people engage with their surrounding foodscape. This foodscape study analysed the wards of Camberwell Green and Peckham Rye in Southwark.

Difference in food provision across the wards


of shops in Peckham Rye display fresh produce


of shops in Peckham Rye display fresh produce

Both wards have similar demographics and socio-economic makeup, but differ in child obesity rates. High streets are the heart of these wards, where most life exists, namely around public transit hubs, yet opportunities for public life are limited.

The report’s findings highlight that:

  • Food offerings vary across the wards: 65% of shops in Peckham Rye display fresh produce compared to 23% in Camberwell Green. Visual cues between green grocers and kiosks differ greatly.
  • Signals in the environment attract young people to a certain type of place: Outlets with simple branding, bright shop frontages and quick food options draw in young consumers.
  • Fast food is an after-school amenity: Young people are most visible on weekdays, at after-school hours. During this time, 1 in 3 young people in Camberwell and Peckham Rye were observed in fast food shops in after-school hours.
  • Adults eat out just as much as young people, and much of it boils down to being social. Across both areas, 84% of all adults eat out 1-5 times a week, compared to 88% of young people.
  • Waiting for public transport is the dominant activity for young people, and these transport hubs often act as food hot spots: Fast food outlets are often located just steps away from transport hubs.
  • Food places play a civic role in the wards: After school, fast food places become the most social place to be. As the number of civic institutions has decreased, the time being spent in these outlets has increased. Often these food places become an extension of the public realm; young people can be there for as long as they like and their behaviour is likely to go unmonitored.

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Read the 'Understanding Southwark's food experience' report