As we were chewing the fat over a cup of coffee, Richard Lilford, CLAHRC WM Director, told me about his recent visit to Kenya and a grant application he was consulting on. The application plans to look at interventions which aim to improve the diet of the people who lived in the slums around Nairobi. Many people who live in such slums buy their food from street vendors, as this minimises the effort and cost of cooking. In 2002 The International Food Policy Research Institute based in Washington, produced a report looking at the challenges and options for poor people living in cities in developing countries. One study it looked at found that city residents in Nigeria spent up to 50% of their total food expenditure on street food and would often have less time available for buying and preparing food, greater exposure to advertising, and easier access to street food compared to poor people living in rural areas. People buying this street food are constrained by what the street vendors are selling, which usually contains high levels of salt, saturated fat and sugar.
This got me thinking – can we claim to have better diets in higher income countries? Is there any difference between me popping into my local fast food restaurant on the way home from work or ordering a takeaway because I cannot make the effort to cook, and the poor people in Nairobi who buy their dinner from street vendors? Gavin Rudge of the CLAHRC WM recently carried out a pilot study looking at the relationship between fast food provision and neighbourhood characteristics in the metropolitan boroughs of Sandwell and Dudley. Initial findings suggest that there is an association between neighbourhood deprivation and the density and proximity of fast food outlets. The density of fast food outlets increases with deprivation, in the most deprived areas your nearest fast food outlet is less than a 2 minute walk away. While local authorities in this country are already moving to place restrictions on new applications for fast food outlets, some areas are already saturated with them – this seems to be an idea that has come far too late. Instead, we need to change people’s individual behaviour and their food choices in order to improve their diet. Although Sandwell is currently saturated in fatty and greasy food choices, if residents decide to eat healthier then eventually the demand for fast food will go down and outlets will be forced to close or diversify into healthier options.
It seems to me that whether you are living in the slums of Nairobi or in an inner city within the UK, the social features around food choices are the same. I will be interested to see how the CLAHRC WM Director tries to tackle this problem in Africa – hopefully he can bring some insights back.
— Jo Sartori, CLAHRC WM Head of Programme Delivery
1: International Food Policy Research Institute. Living in the City: Challenges and Options for the Urban Poor. 2002. [Online].