Older people's perceptions and experiences of strengths and vulnerabilities across the UK food system

Wills, Wendy (2018). Older people's perceptions and experiences of strengths and vulnerabilities across the UK food system. [Data Collection]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive. 10.5255/UKDA-SN-853050

Like the rest of the developing world the UK is experiencing demographic change. There are currently 10.8 million people aged 65 or over in the UK and over 1.4 million are aged 85 or over. The numbers of centenarians has nearly quadrupled since 1981, from 2,600 to over 12,000 in 2010. The number of people aged 60+ is expected to be more than 20 million in the UK by 2031 and the number of individuals aged over 85 years is predicted to double in the next 20 years and nearly treble in the next 30 (Age UK 2013). A significant minority of older people have ongoing health conditions and for those aged over 85 up to two thirds has a disability or limiting long term illness. Two thirds of NHS clients are aged 65 and over (Philip 2007). Such statistics and demographic shifts highlight that addressing when, how and why older people might become vulnerable through the food that they eat should be a research priority in terms of impact on the UK food system, quality of life for individuals, better public health outcomes, reducing the burden of disease and disability not to mention the resultant economic benefits for the UK. Whilst food security and the UK food system itself are relatively secure, the potential for older people to become vulnerable could be strengthened, weakened or influenced by a number of external factors, though no research has explored such factors broadly in relation to the older population. Older people might disproportionately acquire food from different parts of the food supply chain and civil society compared with other groups of the population as they are perhaps more likely to encounter food delivery services marketed directly at them and the health professionals who care for them and through social enterprises serving food, such as 'meals on wheels' and Age UK lunch clubs. We have reviewed the datasets available via the UK Data Service and found none matches the study objectives. New data will therefore be collected and a qualitative approach used. In the first phase of the study the research team will use interviews, photography/photo-elicitation, video observation and other techniques designed to engage participants including the use of diaries with 25 households drawing on a broadly ethnographic approach to investigate the food acquisition practices and perceptions of trust of a range of household types incorporating individuals aged 60+ years. These findings will inform 4-6 focus groups with older people (Phase Two). Finally, a consensus event with stakeholders from across the UK food system will be organised to debate and critique the findings from the first two phases (Phase Three). To maximise public engagement, and ability of a lay audience to more fully participate in the study, we will develop an interactive exhibition. Members of the public, through the Public Involvement in Research group, will be a key part of the approach taken throughout the research.

Data description (abstract)

The study used an ethnographic methodological approach, drawing on a number of methods, including 'go-along' tours of the participant's kitchen and accompanied trips to places where food was acquired, eg supermarkets, allotments and lunch clubs. The ways that vulnerability linked to the food system might operate for different groups of older people is not straightforward but a framework for assessing different domains of vulnerability - exposure, threats, coping capacities and outcomes is proposed. Trust is thought to be an integral part of relationship building between actors in the food system and consumers are increasingly being viewed as having an active role in the trust relationship. It is unclear whether and how civil society actors within the food system undertake to build and market trust or whether the mechanisms by which trust operates or is perceived by consumers is different when the commercial sector is not involved. Assessing older people's own views on trust and their experience of different actors at the point that food is acquired is therefore important.

Creator NameEmailAffiliationORCID (as URL)
Wills, Wendyw.j.wills@herts.ac.ukUniversity of Hertfordshirehttps://orcid.org/0000-0001-7127-6045
NameEmailAffiliationORCID (as URL)
Dickinson, Angelaa.m.dickinson@herts.ac.ukUniversity of Hertfordshirehttps://orcid.org/0000-0001-7681-2732
Research funders: Economic and Social Research Council
Grant reference: ES/M00306X/1
Topic classification: Health
Society and culture
Keywords: old age, food
Project title: Older people's perceptions and experiences of strengths and vulnerabilities across the UK food system
Grant holders: Wendy Wills, Ariadne Kapetanaki, Faith Ikioda, Angela Dickinson, Susan Halliday
Project dates:
1 October 20141 February 2017
Date published: 13 Jun 2018 15:45
Last modified: 13 Jun 2018 15:45

Available Files



Read me


data downloads and page views since this item was published

View more statistics


Edit item (login required)

View data collection View data collection