To read this content please select one of the options below:

Food access, diet and health in the UK: an empirical study of Birmingham

Hillary Shaw (Business Management and Marketing Department, Harper Adams University College, Newport, UK)

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 13 April 2012




This paper aims to investigate the statistical and geographical links between the prevalence of obesity and a range of socio‐economic indicators in a major UK city


The geographical pattern of fresh fruit and vegetable retailing was mapped across Birmingham (UK), and this data was combined with UK census data from Neighbourhood Statistics to investigate possible correlations between obesity and the social geography of this city. To further elicit the varying underlying links between obesity and social conditions, a methodology of partial correlations was used to create “social transects” across Birmingham so the operational effects of social conditions upon poor diet could be investigated across a range of Birmingham neighbourhood types.


Across Birmingham as a whole, people whose ethnic or social make‐up did not fit the dominant group in their neighbourhood were more likely to be obese than those of the majority socio‐ethnic group for that area. The level of qualifications was the dominant influencer on obesity and diet. Particularly, less wealthy people in the more affluent areas of Birmingham were likely to suffer financial difficulties in eating healthily. However, in less affluent areas, being in (low‐paid) work actually increased the chances of being obese, as compared to being unemployed in these districts.

Research limitations/implications

Changes in the pattern of retailing or changes in individual's social status over the period of this research may confound the results; however the research may be regarded as a snapshot of conditions in Birmingham in ca.2006. The areal analysis may be confounded by the MAUP problem, although as distance to shops does not emerge as a major predictor of obesity, the results are still valid. The research applies to only one city (Birmingham), although a wide range of neighbourhood types typical of other British cities are covered.

Practical implications

Time limitations emerge as a significant factor in diet, especially in the less‐affluent areas of Birmingham. The significance of a range of social indicators upon diet is greatly affected by the range of neighbourhood types sampled. Factors barring access to a healthy diet can vary upon very small scales, even down to the individual household. Distance to shops has an effect upon diet, but only as a “moderating factor” acting in conjunction with a wider range of economic and social factors.

Social implications

The effects of poverty, and especially unemployment, have very different effects upon diet and obesity in poor as compared to affluent areas; and in poorer areas, time limitations upon households operate so as to worsen the diet of those in low‐paid work. This implies that dietary improvement initiatives aimed at the less well off should aim for a compromise between health and convenience; otherwise such initiatives will merely widen health inequalities. Minority groups in all areas, whether a minority by ethnicity, age, or wealth, need special attention by dietary investigators.


The use of partial correlations to elicit the different responses to socio‐economic conditions as regards diet has not been applied before to a major UK city. The distance to shops for all residential areas for a major UK city has not been previously mapped.



Shaw, H. (2012), "Food access, diet and health in the UK: an empirical study of Birmingham", British Food Journal, Vol. 114 No. 4, pp. 598-616.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Related articles