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Improving health
Previously NHS Health Scotland

Food poverty is commonly defined as ‘the inability to acquire or consume an adequate or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so’.

It can have a detrimental impact on physical and psychological wellbeing so it’s important for a person to have access to and the choice of an affordable, acceptable and healthy diet throughout their life.

Here you’ll find information and resources on the links between food poverty and health inequalities as well as local and national actions that can be taken to address this.

  • Food insecurity has varying degrees of severity. Early stages involve
    • worry about whether there will be enough food
    • compromising quality, variety and quantity of food.
  • Going without food and experiencing hunger are the most severe stages.
  • International evidence demonstrates that the majority of people experiencing food insecurity, as much as four in every five, do not access foodbanks.
  • Households in Scotland living in relative poverty spend around a quarter of their weekly income on food which, though less in absolute terms, is more than twice the proportion spent by better off households.

Food poverty and health inequalities

Barriers to consuming a healthy diet can be for reasons that are

  • economic
  • social
  • cultural

They can also be associated with

  • socio-economic status
  • ethnicity
  • geographical location.

Therefore nutrition-related inequalities (differences in what people eat across social groups) and food-related inequalities (differences in ability to access food across social groups) can affect health and wellbeing and contribute to wider health inequalities.

Experiencing food poverty can often involve sacrifice and dietary adjustments. For example, mothers skipping meals so that their children can eat compromises on food quality and variety.

The experience for some can also involve reliance on

  • family
  • friends
  • neighbours
  • community initiatives

The terms food poverty and food insecurity are often used interchangeably. However food insecurity, and household food insecurity, tend to be more commonly used when measuring the scale and understanding the nature of food poverty.

Food poverty is complex. There are many different factors, particularly around access and availability that can affect and exacerbate the impact on

  • individuals
  • families

Fundamentally however, it is preventable and results primarily from the socio-economic and environmental context in which people live.

Find out more about this in our research on the nature and extent of food poverty in Scotland and our position statement.

Local actions

Community Food and Health Scotland (CFHS)

We run Community Food and Health Scotland (CFHS), a programme that aims to ensure that everyone in Scotland has the opportunity, ability and confidence to access a healthy and acceptable diet for themselves, their families and their communities.

We do this through work with community groups that suffer disadvantage and would benefit most.

You can visit the CFHS site to find out more about the training, events and resources available and also sign up for the newsletter and e-bulletin.

Community led research

We supported community-led research into food security and insecurity with three community partners

  • Central and West Integration Network
  • Linwood Community Development Trust
  • Borders Healthy Living Network.

You can download the research on the CFHS website.

You might also be interested in GoWell’s briefing paper 28: Food bank use in Glasgow’s deprived areas (external site).

National actions

Dignity: Ending Hunger Together in Scotland

This report was written by The Independent Working Group on Food Poverty. It highlights five key areas for national action.

  1. We have to treat people in food insecurity with dignity as the core principle which runs through all potential solutions.
  2. We have to understand the scale of the problem in order that we can address it more effectively.
  3. We have to focus on how we prevent food insecurity and hunger from occurring in the first place.
  4. We have to respond more effectively when people do fall into food insecurity and hunger.
  5. We have to invest in creating more sustainable, longer-term and more life-enriching solutions to food insecurity.

You can download the full report on the Scottish Government site.

Menu for Change project

As a response to the above report, the lottery funded Menu for Change project (external site) was set up to tackle food insecurity. It aims to make sure those facing an income crisis can afford to buy their own food.

Fair Food Transformation Fund

The Scottish Government has also set up the Fair Food Transformation Fund (external site) to support projects that give a more dignified response to food poverty and help to move away from emergency food aid as the first response.

Scottish health survey 2017

A further action has been to add questions on food insecurity to the Scottish health survey 2017 (external site).

Visit the CHFS site for a first findings presentation of these questions (external site).

Food poverty inequalities briefing

You can download our food poverty inequalities briefing for more information on food poverty in Scotland and the key actions to take.