Robert Gordon University (RGU), in collaboration with Community Food Initiatives North East (CFINE), interviewed people using food banks and pantries from as young as 26 and as senior as 83 in North-East Scotland. Just under half of the people who took part in the research were employed with the other half retired or unemployed due to ill health. All but one person interviewed had multiple conditions.
Food insecurity poses a significant risk to those living with long-term health conditions. Proper nutrition is vital to managing health and the potential side effects of multiple medications. Side effects can become stronger with poor diet, which can lead to patients diluting their prescriptions; this worsens their condition and increases healthcare costs.
Dr Flora Douglas, a Reader from RGU’s School of Nursing & Midwifery and a member of the Scottish Government’s National Food Poverty Advisory Group, is the principal investigator for the study.
“People’s capability to self-care is being undermined by food insecurity in Scotland,” said Dr Douglas. “The individuals we interviewed have in-depth knowledge of the diet they need to follow. They just couldn’t afford to do so, even if they were in work.
“Most of our participants reported eating just one meal per day or going for several days without food, opting instead to put food on the table for their dependents or to pay bills. This food scarcity was commonly associated by the participants as causing low mood or mental health challenges.
“We’ve also found that economic vulnerability – a risk factor for food insecurity – is not necessarily apparent during a healthcare consultation. Health professionals should be alert to the fact that people’s physical appearance, area of residence, or work status is no indication of a patient being food secure.”
In Scotland, more than two million people live with one or more long-term health conditions. The most recent 2017 Scottish Health Survey found that 18% of people who were living with limiting longstanding illness were also living with food insecurity.
Robert Gordon University is growing its impactful research collaborations through academic, private and public partnerships. Its collaboration with CFINE looks to improve the economic and social development of North East Scotland.
CFINE’s Development Work Manager Dave Kilgour said: “Food banks and pantries, which receive generous but unpredictable food stock from external sources, cannot guarantee the right and sustainable nutrition for people on multiple medications for long-term illnesses. A lot of people who use these facilities are in work. If they can’t get appropriate support through welfare, then they have to rely on emergency food aid as their only resort.
“We hope that this research develops the conversation we need to have as a society so that everyone, no matter their background, has access to the right nutrition when they need it most.”