Urban food consumption and health

More than half of the world population now lives in or around a city, with urbanisation in many parts of the word occurring more rapidly than the food system can cope with. Cities are exciting places for people to live and work, but are also places with high levels of health and wealth inequalities. A key marker of inequality is access to safe and nutritious food.

Improving food supply and nutritional health among city dwellers requires a multidisciplinary approach, looking at the complex and varied ways in which food reaches cities, how it is distributed, and how consumers make food choices. 

Our projects 

The Urban Food Observatory – Professor Caroline Orfila is leading a hub for multidisciplinary research, which draws together researchers and stakeholders with an interest in food, nutrition and health. The Observatory is exploring new approaches to tackle challenges associated with urban food consumption and its economic, health and social consequences. The Observatory adopts a food systems approach that encompasses urban farming and distribution, innovative manufacturing and consumer behaviour. 

Leeds resilience to climate change – Dr Paola Sakai is leading work with stakeholders across the Leeds City Region. They are developing a series of workshops to lay the foundations for action towards enabling a climate resilience food system that promotes health, sustainability and food security.  They have developed a number of scenarios for the future of the Leeds food system which are laid out in a brief following the first Leeds Food System Scenarios Workshop. A second workshop Leeds Food System Pathway identified the key priorities for action, which were laid out in a policy brief delivered to the Climate Emergency Advisory Committee.

Food procurement – Led by Dr Eleonora Morganti and funded by the N8, the project focuses on the impact of both Brexit and climate change on food supply chains at a city level. This project is developed by academics and experts working on local supply chains, public procurement legal frameworks and sustainable food partnerships. The Universities of Leeds and Lancaster are working together to map the context of city level procurement in both cities, focusing in key anchor institutions, such as schools and hospitals. 

Sustainable food transport in cities – With increased urbanisation and economic development, cities are expected to face a variety of challenges including food access and air quality issues. Led by Dr Eleonora Morganti, the project explores how to promote the transition to cleaner, non-fossil fuel technology in transport while preserving capillary food distribution across the city. The project will respond to new challenges related to e-commerce and to changing consumption habits in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Addressing micronutrient deficiencies associated with the double burden of childhood malnutrition in China, a combined food system framework – Prof Yun Yun Gong is leading a 3-year BBSRC funded project that will assess the increasing double burden of malnutrition (DBM) including under- and over-nutrition, and the micronutrient deficiencies in children from economically diverse regions in China. They will identify the barriers and drivers for promoting effective uptake and scaling-up of existing food system-based interventions. The project will be delivered through a close partnership with the China CDC’s National Institute of Nutrition and Health, the China National Health Development Research Center, and outside China the National Institute of Nutrition in Vietnam and The ILSI South East Asia Region.

FAmiSHEd (Interactions between Food wAste, Surplus and HungEr) – the project is funded by the N8 AgriFood Resilience Programme and led by Dr Effie Papargyropoulou from the Sustainability Research Institute. FAmiSHEd aims to critique the ‘win-win’ narrative around food surplus redistribution and food poverty alleviation, and propose alternatives that work towards tackling both the immediate urgent needs and long term priorities that address the root causes of food poverty and systematic food waste generation. This project brings together interdisciplinary academic expertise across the universities of Leeds, Sheffield, and Newcastle, and co-produces knowledge with a network of stakeholders from the retail, government and the third sector.

Our leading researchers

Dr Caroline Orfila is Professor of Plant Biochemistry and Nutrition in the School of Food Science and Nutrition. Her main interests are understanding the effect of post-harvest processing on the food and nutritional quality of plant foods, including cereals, legumes and potatoes. 

Our collaborations

The issues of urban inequality are international in scope and the Urban Food Consumption programme is developing collaborations with industry, research institutions, policy-makers and charities worldwide. 

Regionally, we are working with Leeds city Council and Foodwise Leeds (formerly Leeds Food Partnership) to understand the Leeds Food system.

Leeds has been designated as a WHO collaborating centre in Nutrition Epidemiology World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre in Nutritional Epidemiology, the first of its kind in the world. The collaborating centre assist WHO in developing nutrition policies. 

We are also working with FANRPAN (Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network).

ARUA Centre of Excellence in Food Security, University of Pretoria - The African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) Centre of Excellence (ACoE) in Food Security was awarded to the University of Pretoria in 2018. The award aims to facilitate a network of researchers in exploring solutions to food security challenges in Africa.

N8 AgriFood Programme – The University of Leeds joins the universities of Durham, Lancaster, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York to combine the expertise of these 8 most research intensive universities in the North of England. The AgriFood programme aims to tackle the challenges faced across the entire food system through 3 research themes: Sustainable Food Production, Resilient Supply Chains, and Improved Consumption & Health.

The University also has several collaboration agreements in Food Safety (with Jiangsu University), Food Science (with Wageningen University, Massey University and Zhejiang Gongshang University), Food Science and Bioprocessing with Zhejiang University.

For enquiries about urban food consumption, email globalfood@leeds.ac.uk or phone +44 (0)113 343 7996.