Junk food cafés’ impact on public health, deprived communities and food waste in North West England

Gregory Williams, Christine Greenhalgh, Arpana Verma, Daniel Pope, Grace Vella, Stella Connell

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Approximately 10 million tonnes of food is wasted in the UK every year, 60% of which could be avoided; the equivalent of £17 billion and 20 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. 710,000 tonnes of surplus food is currently redistributed via charitable and commercial routes. One avenue for redistribution is The Real Junk Food Project and its network of cafés primarily aimed at providing meals made from surplus food on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis. The Skelmersdale Junk Food Café aims at providing additional public health benefits over and above reducing food waste. The café is located in a deprived community which experiences a high amount of food poverty, and is run through the Birchwood Centre, which is a charity that aims to improve the life skills of young people (aged 13-25) in ‘crisis’ situations.

The University of Manchester is currently conducting a systematic review, a rapid review and an evaluation comparing the Skelmersdale café to the traditional junk food café model, to identify the additional benefits of this adapted approach. A mixed methods evaluation is being conducted. Provisional interviews and questionnaires have been conducted with both customers and those running the café. This has highlighted benefits of the café that will be studied in more detail through quantitative and qualitative methods (including sub-group/control analysis among refugees within the area) to identify the impact of the café on its volunteers and customers.

Preliminary results suggest improvements and impacts on:

Social isolation – Customers from the café are going to the café to get out and meet people

Mental health – Volunteers show improvement in their mental health from developing new skillsets

Community cohesion – Customers say they go to the café to support their community

Food Poverty and nutrition – Customers in food poverty welcome it as an opportunity to get healthy food

Data collection is currently ongoing with the final report due to be submitted in October 2018.

Key messages:

Junk Food Cafes have the potential to have a positive impact on public health.

Junk Food Cafes have the potential to help combat food poverty and social isolation in deprived communities.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEuropean Journal of Public Health
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication statusPublished - 21 Nov 2018


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