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Nourish to Flourish:

How Food Boosts Mental, Physical and Community Health.

City Harvest: Value of Food Redistribution to People 

Download the People Value Report & learn about food poverty, food waste, and the value of working with a food redistribution solution provider.

June 2024

Research reveals the critical role food redistribution plays in mental health.

According to the British public, healthcare and the state of the National Health Service (NHS) is the biggest issue facing the country. *1
This comes as no surprise as the NHS grapples with the most severe pressures in its 75-year history. Aggravating these pressures is poor diet, which contributes to 9 of the top 15 risk factors for illness, including hypertension, malnutrition, heart disease and diabetes. *2

The NHS will continue to be strained from treating acute and chronic conditions caused by hunger and unhealthy diets.
Spending on malnutrition *3 is estimated to cost the NHS £19.6bn per year, while obesity *4 costs the NHS around £6.5bn a year as it is the second biggest cause of cancer. *5

The UK consistently ranks in the upper ends of childhood obesity and mental distress globally:


Select Country  Obesity Prevalence
among 5-19 year-olds *6
United States of America 20.6%
China 11.9%
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 11.3%
Spain 10.5%
EU Average 9.1%
France 4.1%



Select Country  Population experiencing
mental distress *7
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 35%
South Africa 35%
Spain 28%
United States of America 25%
Brazil 24%
France 19%



Obesity and its associated illnesses can be attributed to a poor diet, where foods that are typically high in energy, fats and sugar are the most inexpensive and convenient. These foods cause insulin to spike, making people feel hungrier and likelier to overconsume them, and as a result, increase their percentage of body fat. *8
The people most at risk of these ailments disproportionately come from the most deprived households who have limited capacity for choice about the nutritional value and the quantity of food they can access. Obesity rates amongst adults are disproportionately higher in the most deprived areas compared to least deprived areas (34% vs 20%), *9 particularly as the most deprived populations are three times as likely to not consume any fruits and vegetables. *10 As the cost of food has risen, so has the likelihood of people consuming a nutrient-poor diet, further increasing the risk of illness the demand on the NHS – particularly for most deprived populations.

Beyond poor physical health, an insufficient diet also perpetuates poor mental health, such as depression, anxiety, loneliness, as well as severe mental illnesses. *11 A growing body of research shows that a healthy diet, which includes fruits and vegetables, promotes a healthy gut, which support the production of serotonin and dopamine which regulate our mood and emotions. *12 Moreover, the inability to afford food threatens people’s ability to share food with others, which also negatively affects their health and wellbeing. A study by the University of Oxford revealed that while the average British adult eats 10/21 weekly meals alone, communal eating increases social bonding and feelings of wellbeing. *13

Mental illness cost England £300 billion in 2022, double the entire budget for the NHS (£153bn). *14
Mental health in 2024 alone will cost the NHS £14.4bn, a £2.4bn increase from 2017/18.15

To bridge the gap between risks to health and the inaccessibility and unaffordability of food, food redistribution charities serve as a mediating option by delivering fresh surplus food to a range of charities—from food banks to community meal projects—for free. This allows those in need to increase their intake of a nutrient-rich diet.

To better understand the trends in the health and wellbeing of people engaging with food assistance programmes, City Harvest conducted a survey with 118 of its charity partners who support London communities in need. This edition of the People report will explore how City Harvest’s work with its range of charity partners helps improve the health outcomes of particular demographic groups.

City Harvest reduces the burden on the NHS by over £3 million per year: *16

Exploring health outcomes through charities and their people.


LEYF runs 40 nurseries across 12 London boroughs, delivering high quality Early Years education and care to children aged from birth to five years old.

“A lot of parents may not follow what the nurseries do. We may meet them at the door with healthy nutritious meals, but it cannot just stop at our door—it needs to extend to the weekend and evenings to help their children grow and develop.
For instance, if we know that there is a nursery in an area of high deprivation, we may offer a bag of food and a recipe card to all the families so that they cook with their children. As the programme is classified as home-learning and is for everyone, it relieves the stigma of the family taking free food.”

Young People

Evolve is a homelessness charity, providing housing and support to over 1,000 young people who are impacted by homelessness in London.

“Because of their early life experiences, low income and the high cost of living, many clients have a poor diet and struggle with budgeting. Due to a variety of complex needs, some clients tend to live off fast food and takeaways as a result of not having the basic life skills needed for young adults. For this reason, we work as a team to educate our clients around healthy eating, sensible food shopping and the ability to manage and budget on a low income to pay bills and save for the future.”

Older People

Be Enriched is a South London based charity, focused on reducing social isolation through food. Their community canteens bring people together to enjoy a meal.

“The cost of living is a huge burden on seniors but more and more we are seeing social isolation. Seniors continue coming, some for the entire 10 years of Be Enriched’s establishment, because they made friends, share stories, and receive advice and support from the friends they made. Connection with people helps them overcome the isolation and loneliness, and sometimes, loneliness is more harmful to people than disease.

Experience with homelessness

Sufra is a charity in North West London that combats hunger, fights poverty and builds community

“We have people who are sleeping rough and who do not have any cooking and life skills. At the community kitchens and food aid services guests receive not only food parcels and hot meals but also access to our advice service and partner organisations such as health services. We work with social prescribers because a lot of people have fallen through the gaps, like asylum seekers or rough sleepers, who are not receiving proper healthcare because they don’t have an address, and so are not registered with a GP.”

Lifesavers to Financial Independence: The range of food access models.

City Harvest’s charity partners represent a broad variety of organisations — while some primarily provide emergency food assistance, others represent food-sharing options which help improve people’s mental health, reduce their costs or combat food waste. Despite these differences, the survey
revealed that they, and their clients, face similar problems and hold similar views on the solutions needed to tackle them. We found that:


of respondents observe depression as the top health issue among their clients.


of respondents observe that obesity and its related ailments (liver and heart disease, cancer and diabetes) are the top health issues experienced by their clients.


of respondents believe that the main reason behind the health problems suffered by their clients is the unaffordability and inaccessibility of nutritious food.


of respondents say City Harvest’s support allows them to provide more activities aimed to relieve social isolation. Almost half are able to provide diet and nutrition advice.


Soup kitchens, refuges and hostels

  • Soup kitchens, refuges and hostels: provide vital support to individuals who are excluded from society, and who are in need of a hot meal to sustain themselves.
  • In response to what challenges their clients faced in their early years, the most common answer (47%) was experience within the care system, demonstrating the need for more targeted support for this demographic.

Traditional food banks:

  • Traditional food banks provide emergency food to people who have been referred to them and can also provide add-on services to prevent people from needing support again in the future. They are designed to be short-term interventions and do not provide permanent support.
  • Across the UK, there are more food banks than McDonald’s restaurants, indicating the unprecedented need among the UK population. *17

Community food projects:

  • Unlike traditional food banks, these do not require a referral and represent operations run by local communities. These services are selfpoliced, and beneficiaries can use it however frequently and for however long they wish.

Financial Independence:

Community meals

  • The cover photo illustrates the importance of sharing a meal with others, nourishing one’s physical and mental health.
  • A recent survey from City Harvest’s charity partner Food Cycle found that almost half of their guests eat most of their meals alone, and over 70% of them feel lonely. *18

Early Year Support:


  • Nurseries which offer government-funded hours, provide vital support to parents who could not otherwise afford childcare and need to go to work to provide for their families.
  • Nutrition during the early years of childhood is fundamental to developing positive eating habits. This is key not only for children’s healthy physical development, but also for their cognitive development and function as they continue to grow. *19
  • One nursery respondent indicated that “the most common health issue is tooth decay and gum diseases, which is most prevalent in young children due to the sugary snacks, and which lies hand in hand with obesity.”

People SROI Explained

For every £1 invested, City Harvest delivers an estimated £3.70 of positive impact to the final recipients of food donations. When £10,000 is donated to City Harvest, there is £37,000 of positive impact that allows for the redistribution of 17,400 kg of food, equivalent to 40,000 meals.

Early years support is crucial to grounding success, as evidenced by the research:

Through increased employment opportunities and better educational attainment, City Harvest service users’ prospects of being able to afford healthy and nutritious food are increased.
• Nearly 70% of respondents noted that their clients experienced a
lack of financial resources in their early years.
1 in 3 traditional food bank respondents reported that their
clients had limited access to quality and post-secondary education
in their early years.

Through their Doubling Down programme and City Harvest’s support, LEYF provides children who do not qualify for UC with an additional 15 hours of care per week and a hot meal to support healthy eating:

“The food received from City Harvest is two-fold. The food will go to the food bank and while the Doubling Down system does cost an incredible amount, the costs saved from City Harvest will allow up to 12 additional children to be funded in the programme for a full year.

City Harvest’s ripple effect addresses some of the root causes of criminal offences:

1 in 5 respondents from the ‘lifesaver’ categories reported their clients had experience with the criminal justice system in their early years.

The safety of our free food facilitates the advice, guidance and support which helps prevent re-offending.” Sarah Calcutt, CEO of City Harvest


Our charity partners’ clients have complex needs, requiring action from across government and the third sector. The following recommendations have been developed based on the insight from our charity partners:

  • Affordable and Decent Housing:
    As rents have become increasingly unaffordable, it is crucial to (a) support benefits recipients in accessing decent private accommodation, (b) support those already living in private rental accommodation with rent by increasing housing support and regulating rents, and (c) build affordable housing with appropriate amenities and maintenance support.
  • Education and Life Skills:
    As many do not have parental figures to teach them valuable life skills, it is necessary to expand education to include courses on nutrition, cooking and budgeting. Other skills, such as gardening and exercise as key elements of a healthy lifestyle, should also be offered by community groups.
  • Community and Social Support:
    Increase partnerships with organisations able to invest in supporting community needs. Incorporate mental and physical wellbeing activities in community programmes. Develop rigorous monitoring and evaluation programmes to understand the needs of service users. Faciliate knowledge exchange with local authorities and government departments to understand the needs within the community and the impact of the voluntary organisations that support them.
  • Government Support:
    Increase access to schemes to help people leave the benefit system. Earmark funding dedicated to food provision for service
    users and implement rigorous monitoring and evaluation methods to ensure that programmes appropriately allocate the funds. Increase funding for community and youth sector programmes.

Thank you to everyone who helped put this report together including: Shared Planet, Bain & Co, SJP Graphic Design & the charity partners who participated in the research. Photographs by Oscar J. Ryan and Andrew McLeay


1 Skinner, Gideon and Clemence, Michael. 2024. “NHS, the economy, inflation and immigration set to be biggest election issues.” Ipsos, May 23, 2024.

2 World Health Organization. 2024. “Obesity and overweight.” WHO, March 1, 2024.

3 Malnutrition is a serious condition that happens when one’s diet does not contain the right amount of nutrients (i.e., has deficiencies or excesses in nutrient intake).

4 Obesity is a condition that happens when one has excessive fat accumulation that poses a risk to health.

5 Gregory, Andrew. 2024. “Almost a quarter of English children are obese at the end of primary school.” The Guardian, January 24, 2024.

6 The Global Health Observatory. 2022. “Prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents, BMI > +2 standard deviations above the median (crude estimate) (%).” Accessed June 11, 2024. and-adolescents-bmi-2-standard-deviations-above-the-median-(crude-estimate)-(-)

7 Sapien Labs. 2024. “The Mental State of the World in 2023.” Sapien Labs, March 4, 2024.  

8 Harvard School of Public Health. 2022. “Hunger and obesity both linked to poor diet quality.” Harvard School of Public Health, October 19, 2022. https://

9 NHS England. 2022. “Health Survey for England, 2021 part 1.” NHS England, December 15, 2022. statistical/health-survey-for-england/2021#summary

10 NHS England. 2024. “Health Survey for England, 2022 Part 1.” NHS England, June 6, 2024. statistical/health-survey-for-england/2022-part-1#summary 

11 Teesside University. 2023. “Over 50% of peoplewith severe mental illnessin the north of England livingwith food insecurity.” Teesside University, September 19, 2023.

12 Wadyka, Sally. 2023. “The Link Between Highly Processed Foods and Brain Health.” The New York Times, May 4, 2023. https://www.nytimes. com/2023/05/04/well/eat/ultraprocessed-food-mental-health.html.

13 Oxford University. 2017. “Social eating connects communities” Oxford University, March 16, 2017. connects-communities

14 Centre for Mental Health. 2024. “Mental Ill Health Costs Society £300 Billion every year, according to NewCentre for Mental Health Economic Analysis.” Centre for Mental Health, March 27, 2024. according-to-new-centre-for-mental-health-economic-analysis/

15 Baker, Carl&Kirk-Wade, Esme. 2024. “Mental health statistics: prevalence,services and funding in England.” UK Parliament, March 1, 2024. https:// 

16 Some of these data date to asfar back as 2015. Due to the age of the data, the true values are different and are most likely greater given the rising prevalence of these issues.

17 Dawson, Bethany. 2022. “Many in the UK face a grim choice thiswinter between eating and heating as a cost-of-living crisis gripsthe nation.” Business Insider, October 9, 2022.

18 Self, Lucy. 2024. “Recentsurvey says half of people eat most meals alone.” The News, Portsmouth, February 8, 2024. lifestyle/family-and-parenting/recent-survey-says-half-of-people-eat-most-meals-alone-4510318 

19 Public Health Agency. 2018. “Nutrition mattersforthe early years: Guidance forfeeding under fivesin the childcare setting.” Public Health Agency, February 1, 2018.