On track for change
Food Train is an award-winning national charity offering a vital nationwide food delivery, meal-making and befriending service for older adults in their communities.
Food Train’s National Lottery Community funded Eat Well Age Well project works in collaboration with the University of Glasgow, the voluntary sector, local and national government, health professionals and communities. The project develops initiatives to help raise awareness of older adult malnutrition and food insecurity in Scotland, which include informing Scottish Government policy. The pertinence of this research has been highlighted through the impact of COVID-19 on the elderly population.
With one in ten older people malnourished in the UK, Food Train is a vital service to older people living in Scotland.
"With your help I am able to stay in my own home." "I need the company at time to help me survive." "I have no immediate family so Food Train is a godsend to me." "I don't have the incentive to cook for myself now." "I am no longer able to walk outside my home on my own." Excerpts taken from Food Train: Customer Survey Report, 2019
Food insecurity in older adults
University of Glasgow researchers Dr Kate Reid and Professor Catherine Lido from the School of Education have recently completely a twelve-month commissioned research project with Food Train. The project aimed to inform evidence-based messaging about the issues older adults face in relation to food insecurity and psychosocial health.
The Eat Well Age Well project believes that for systemic change in how we address the incidence of older age malnutrition and food insecurity to happen, it is important to build a picture of evidence through academic learning and research about this under-studied issue. Those working in the third sector have witnessed acute issues with food insecurity and malnutrition for vulnerable community dwelling older adults for many years.
"We want to better understand how to evidence the wider social and psychological impacts of being food insecure through academic partnerships. This is so we can ensure our projects offers trusted, evidence-based messaging and lobbying for Scottish Government policy change and more secure social care funding." Laura Cairns, Project Manager, Eat Well Age Well
The research and outputs (Reid, Lido et al 2020) from this collaboration are valuable themselves and have already helped inform evidence based messaging about the issues older adults face in relation to food insecurity and psychosocial health.
The partnership has also brought additional benefits to Food Train and its campaigns. Laura Cairns, Manager of the Eat Well Age Well project explains; “Working with the lead researchers, Kate and Catherine, enabled us to engage with different groups of stakeholders and broaden our network.”
Engaging the community
Collaborative events hosted jointly by Food Train and the University of Glasgow included a ‘sold-out’ multi-stakeholder conference on healthy ageing, a Twitter ‘take over’ and chat events, which contributed to the UK National ‘Malnutrition Awareness Week' campaign.
An MSP sponsored launch of the research findings also took place virtually in October 2020 and a research podcast with Kate and Catherine has been published as well as the agreed ‘4 Calls to Action’ with associated local and national press coverage.
Laura explains; “These were all added value, impactful events which went beyond and reinforced the importance of our research relationship and ensured longevity in our campaign messaging.”
For the University team, this experience was invaluable. Dr Kate Reid said; "This project gave us the experience of working with an organisation in the third sector that is completely switched on to the needs and potential solutions required to reduce inequalities for those who are most vulnerable in our society."
"We benefited hugely from our partners knowledge and skills while we co-designed the research protocol. The research was small scale, executed on a limited budget. However, in partnership we were able to scale up the findings of the research through multi-stakeholder engagement drawing across Eat Well Age Well networks, including representatives from Scottish Government." Dr Kate Reid
Working together through Covid-19
During the pandemic, Food Train has expanded its volunteer service to cope with acute and sustained demand in its services as older adults have been disproportionately impacted by social distancing and shielding measures. This partnership with the University has also expanded and has involved supporting Food Train with its front-line work.
Laura Cairns adds; "During the unprecedented times of Covid-19 we have benefitted from the kindness and community engagement offered by the University of Glasgow in helping us to recruit student telephone befrienders, shoppers and remote meal makers to bolster our service."
Some of the research team themselves became volunteers for Food Train. Dr Reid reflects on her experiences in her blog ‘Bringing Food Insecurity and the Role of the Charity Sector into Sharp Focus During Times of Covid: Researcher Reflections’
Human rights and food insecurity
Addressing food access issues which older adults face is considered in this research collaboration as a human rights and social justice issue, where the right and entitlement to nutritious, readily accessible food, within a connected community, is aligned with the United Nations Global Sustainable Development Goals.
However, the right to food is not yet secured in domestic UK policies and is not part of the UK’s Human Rights Act (Human Rights Watch 2019). Incorporating the human right to food within Scots Law is now being proposed through ‘The Proposed Right to Food (Scotland) Bill’, Scottish Government (2020).
Food insecurity and malnutrition in older adults is a human rights issue. It has detrimental health and psychosocial impacts on this vulnerable group in our society. Food Train and the University of Glasgow are working together to engage and inform community partners and the Scottish Government on the need for systematic policy changes to address this pressing challenge.