A Bennett Institute Visiting Fellow will head up one of four new interdisciplinary research projects to transform the UK food system by placing healthy people and a healthy natural environment at their centre.
These five-year programmes will receive £24m funding through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) to address issues such as obesity, sustainable agriculture and global warming.
Martin White, Professor of Population Health Research in the MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge will lead a programme entitled: “Transforming urban food systems for planetary and population health.”
It will be worked on by The Mandala Consortium – internationally renowned teams from Cambridge, as well as universities in Birmingham, Warwick, Exeter and London.
The project aims to transform the urban food system and its relationship with its regional economy in the West Midlands.
Mapping of the local food system will determine the most powerful levers for system change. These are likely to include new ways of procuring healthier and more sustainable foods in the public sector, and develop online systems to help businesses find and use more locally grown food.
Interventions will be evaluated to demonstrate how food can be made healthier, more affordable and less harmful to the environment, but still profitable.
Says Professor Martin White:
“The COVID-19 pandemic quickly revealed the fragility of our food systems in the UK.
“Recognised as a wake-up call in part 1 of the National Food Strategy (published in July 2020), we urgently need better understanding of how to transform future food systems so that they are more resilient and provide fairer access to healthier and more environmentally sustainable food for everyone.
“Our research will focus intensely on the city of Birmingham and its 1.2 million residents to generate new evidence on how such system transformation can be achieved. 80% of the UK population lives in towns and cities, and Birmingham offer a uniquely diverse microcosm for our experiment.
“Working with a distinctive group of partners from all sectors, and scientists from a wide range of disciplines, we will work together to identify how the food system works, and what changes can be made to achieve greater fairness, healthiness and sustainability, while maintaining economic viability.
“The research will test a number of flagship interventions across the system to provide new evidence that can inform changes across the UK. We will work close with policymakers throughout to ensure the findings have maximal impact across the UK.”
All four research projects being worked on by UK universities will focus on innovations from hydroponics and better supply chains to trialling interventions through action research; helping communities and individuals to make better, healthier food choices and; transforming food systems in cities, regions and nations including communities encountering multiple health and environmental inequalities.