How can we reduce child malnutrition and obesity in the face of food insecurity and poverty?


   College of Health and Life Sciences

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  Prof J Blissett, Dr C Farrow  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Children in the UK face considerable challenges to growing up healthy and happy. For example, here in Birmingham, 40% of the population live in the lowest level of deprivation in the UK, and life expectancy is lower than the national average, with the biggest contributor to loss of years of life being infant mortality. Birmingham has the worst infant mortality rate of all authorities in the UK. Mental health problems are an increasing burden on Birmingham hospitals and physical health is poor, with primary causes of death in adulthood being coronary heart disease, lung cancer and alcoholic liver disease (see https://www.birmingham.gov.uk/downloads/file/11845/birmingham_health_profile_2019).

The trajectories of poorer mental and physical health are set in childhood. More than one in ten 4-5 year olds in Birmingham have obesity (11.5%) and by the end of primary school, this figure is in excess of 25%. The poorest and most vulnerable children face the double burden of malnutrition and obesity, driven in major part by poverty and food insecurity: Unicef estimates that 10% of children in the UK are experiencing severe food insecurity, defined as regularly going without food and experiencing hunger. This places the UK as the worst performing nation in Europe (http://foodfoundation.org.uk/new-evidence-of-child-food-insecurity-in-the-uk/): 2.6 million children in the UK experienced food insecurity in April 2022. Birmingham also has one of the highest fuel poverty rates in the UK with many families having to make the choice between eating and heating, often relying on foodbanks to feed their families: 207665 emergency 3 day food parcels were distributed in the West Midlands in the 2021-2 (Trussell Trust: https://www.trusselltrust.org/news-and-blog/latest-stats/end-year-stats/ ).

Thus, developing support for the poorest families with regard to healthy eating is challenging to say the least. Nonetheless, not all children living in poverty suffer malnutrition or obesity, and not all families living in these difficult circumstances have children with low resilience and wellbeing. However, little is known about what the protective factors are for better health outcomes in these groups. Therefore, this PhD will answer the following questions: 1) What are the protective factors for this group? 2) What are the existing support mechanisms for healthy eating for these families; are they acceptable, accessible and useful for families? 3) What additional food or eating interventions can be developed with children and families which have positive effects on health, wellbeing and maintain family dignity? Furthermore, because 42.1% of the Birmingham’s population are from BAME groups, this project will pay particular attention to cultural factors, ensuring cultural appropriateness of support or intervention designed.

Estimated yearly cost of consumables

4,000 per year

Person Specification

A Masters degree in a relevant subject with a 60% or higher weighted average, and/or a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree (or an equivalent qualification from an overseas institution)

Submitting an application

As part of the application, you will need to supply:

·        A copy of your current CV

·        Copies of your academic qualifications for your Bachelor degree, and Masters degree (if studied); this should include both certificates and transcripts, and must be translated in to English

·        A research proposal statement*

·        Two academic references

·        Proof of your English Language proficiency

Details of how to submit your application can be found here

*The application must be accompanied by a “research proposal” statement. An original proposal is not required as the initial scope of the project has been defined, candidates should take this opportunity to detail how their knowledge and experience will benefit the project and should also be accompanied by a brief review of relevant research literature.

Please include the supervisor’s name and project title in your Personal Statement.

If you require further information about the application process please contact the Postgraduate Admissions team at [Email Address Removed]


Medicine (26) Sociology (32)

Funding Notes

There is no funding for this project.