Scientists kick off £6m project to investigate the role food systems play in the health of children and the environment

A new £6m study into food and health led by four UK universities has begun with the aim to create healthier future generations and a healthier planet.

Researchers will look at healthy eating interventions in schools and nurseries, food retailing, food procurement and farming to address issues such as childhood obesity, sustainability in agriculture and global warming.

The five-year research programme called ‘Transformations to Regenerative Food Systems (TReFS) will also look at how regenerative farming – which promotes biosystems health – can help achieve both healthier populations and environment in the future.

Prof Sarah Bridle from the University of Manchester is leading the data science component of this project. “Food contributes a quarter of all climate change, and rising – at the same time, food is likely to be seriously affected by the changing climate – and we have rising health problems associated with our food choices.” she said.

“So there’s a huge problem! I think it’s fantastic that the UK is investing in finding solutions – its particularly important that these funds encourage collaboration across the sciences, including social scientists and experts in business models.

“I’m really excited to be bringing my data science background to work in a fantastic interdisciplinary team – with the aim of transforming to a regenerative food system – not just reducing damage but making the world a better place.”

The research projects will involve Manchester, York, Leeds, Oxford, City and Cranfield Universities and 21 partner organisations.

Professor Bob Doherty from The York Management School said: “This research programme will bring together expertise from partners who are committed to shifting our food system to one which prioritises dietary health in young people, and builds a more diversified hybrid food economy which sources produce from farmers that promote increased soil health, carbon sequestration and biodiversity.

The project is part of a larger £24 million programme which will also focus on research including hydroponics, where plants are grown without soil. Researchers will also look at how transforming food systems in communities encountering multiple health and environmental inequalities can improve lives.

Professor Guy Poppy, Programme Director of the Transforming the UK Food System SPF Programme said: “Never before has the role that the food system plays in both environmental and human health been so centre-stage. Major issues facing humanity such as addressing climate change and building back better post-Covid will be essential in improving health and wellbeing.

“Every single person in the UK will benefit from this research and we will ensure that the best evidence is generated to answer and offer solutions to the questions which matter and the decisions which need to be made in Transforming the UK food system.”

Four projects have been funded by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF).

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