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Poor diet is one of the biggest preventable risk factors for ill-health. Inequalities in diets contribute to overall inequalities in health. The recent cost-of-living crisis and food price increases have drawn attention to wider inequalities in access to healthy food across the population. This POSTnote gives an overview of the population most at risk of adverse diet-related health outcomes, the underlying causes of inequalities in access to healthy food and the evidence on the effectiveness of current policy approaches. It also summarises stakeholder perspectives, and discusses government strategies. 

This topic is a focus in the Government’s 2020 Obesity Strategy, the Food Strategy, part of the Levelling Up agenda, and expected to feature in the Health Disparities White Paper, highlighting the cross-cutting issue of food and health inequalities in England. 

Key points

  • Poor diet is one the biggest preventable risk factors to ill-health, contributing to lower life expectancy and earlier onset of ill-health. 
  • People most at risk of diet-related ill health include: the disabled; those on lower incomes; those in deprived areas; those from some minority ethnic backgrounds; and vulnerable people such as the homeless.  
  • Some groups are likely to be disadvantaged in multiple ways, compounding the risk of poor health outcomes. 
  • Actions that target individual behaviour are thought unlikely to be successful. Experts argue that strategic change is required to tackle the economic, social and commercial factors that make it harder to eat healthily. 
  • Researchers believe that current strategies are insufficient to improve population health and reach those most affected. 
  • The Government committed to publishing a Health Disparities White Paper in 2022. 


POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer-reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:   

Members of the POST Board*

Jean Adams, – University of Cambridge* 

Jacquie Blake – Local Authority Caterers Association* 

Katrina Brown – Cancer Research UK* 

David Buck – The King’s Fund*  

Malcolm Clark – Cancer Research UK* 

Paul Coleman – City University*  

Steven Cummins – London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine* 

Emma Frew – University of Birmingham* 

Sabine Goodwin – Independent Food Aid Network*  

Shona Goudie – The Food Foundation*  

Rachel Guthartz – Office for Health Improvement and Disparities*   

Corinna Hawkes – City University* 

Maxine Lenza – Cancer Research UK* 

Rachel Loopstra – University of Liverpool* 

Louise Marshall – Health Foundation*  

Morven Oliver – Sustain*  

Oyinlola Oyebode – Queen Mary University of London*  

Bethan Page – Health Foundation* 

Brad Pearce – Local Authority Caterers Association*  

Alexander Peck – Office for Health Improvement and Disparities*  

Madeleine Power – University of York  

Thijs van Rens – University of Warwick*  

Claire Thompson – University of Hertfordshire*  

Beth Vincent – Cancer Research UK* 

Martin White – University of Cambridge*  

Eleanor Winpenny – University of Cambridge 

* denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.

Documents to download

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