Improving the food environment

Various regulatory, policy and targeted interventions to improve the local food environment are described in the ‘Society and environment’ JSNA chapter. These include a Healthier Catering Commitment award scheme for hot food takeaways in Hackney, Local Plan policies to limit further proliferation of such takeaways near secondary schools, as well as various food growing projects.

Addressing social inequalities in dietary behaviours

In Hackney, a range of food budgeting and cooking skills activities are run as part of the local Community Kitchens programme, involving community-based sessional courses run by local not-for-profit organisations. The projects target deprived areas across the borough and classes are free to attend.

The courses on offer are a mix of adult and family classes and aim to promote healthy eating and improve dietary behaviours for all ages. Course content includes cooking healthily from scratch and preparing affordable meals, in order to improve confidence and skills in the kitchen. At the end of each session, participants sit down and eat the food they have prepared together.

In 2015/16, Hackney Public Health funded over 70 ‘cook and eat’ courses on nine estates. Over 700 residents have completed a four week programme. The evaluation showed that at the end of the course:

  • 77% of participants on both adult and family courses reported feeling more confident reading nutritional labels on food packaging
  • 70% of participants said they felt confident preparing and cooking new foods and recipes at home
  • 91% of participants reported cooking at home two or more times a week.

Box 8: Case study – Pembury estate ‘cook and eat’ course participant

Carol and her son joined the course as her son was a picky eater and had poor eating habits. After the second session, Carol was surprised that her son started trying the vegetables and salads with the other children. By the end of the course, her son has cooked a three-course healthy meal for Carol.

“We have really enjoyed this course. It’s made us look at what we eat, finding healthy ways to cook. Not using salt and sugar too much. My children have wanted to go home and do lots of cooking and put it into practice.”