Recent UH Exhibition Explores The Role Of Food & Shopping In Older People’s Lives

by Zoe Fripp

An exhibition organised by the University of Hertfordshire has taken place in St Albans, based on a research project exploring the role that food and shopping have in older generations’ lives.

The event, that took place on the 7th, 8th and 10th November, was entitled ‘25 lives seen through food’, and formed part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science; an exhibition where the public could view photographs and videos exploring food in later life based around 25 households in the local area. Visitors were also able to take part in the exhibition by contributing their own experiences and feelings, and even photos and recipes in response to it.

The two-year project, undertaken by the universities’ Food and Public Health Research team on Food Provisions in later life, aimed to improve the food shopping experience for older people.

As well as the exhibition, two further events took place: one that was open for the public to meet the research team and find out more about the exhibition and their research’s findings, and the other for food retailers to attend to learn how to better serve older people.

From the research, the report urges supermarket retailers to introduce ‘slow’ or ‘relaxed’ checkouts at set times of the day, as it provides the older generation with community interaction and a less stressful environment. The University of Hertfordshire was quoted by ITV News, discussing why this was an important new provision that needed to be introduced:

“Slower checkout lanes for older people would improve the shopping experience for those who enjoy the social aspect of shopping. Shopping online could contribute to a greater feeling of isolation and older people becoming less involved in food provisioning.”

Navigating busy shops is hard enough for younger persons, let alone those with mobility issues [Credit: Paul Townsend on Flickr]

The research briefing had a section dedicated to online shopping, and it was reported that no one that took part in the study shopped online for their food because, aside from the social aspect, many tended to like to do it themselves.

Josephine, 80, said: “Online shopping is not really for me because I like to see what I’m buying. I don’t like other people picking my food out – I like to see what’s going on.”

The brief does, however, acknowledge that online shopping may be necessary for those that are particularly weak and struggle to leave the house. They, therefore, emphasise that although staying active is important, more should be done to ensure that the older generations keep a good relationship with food and that it is easy for them to be able to access ‘a healthy, safe and nutritious diet they find tasty to eat.’

The briefing also urged supermarket stores to ensure that they were accessible for older generations by adding additional seating and rest points around stores, and potentially a section of popular products near the front of the store for those with poor mobility.

Another idea the team is placing great emphasis on is the introduction of a ‘shopping buddy scheme’. Retailers are encouraged to set up this scheme that allows staff to volunteer to assist elderly shoppers and provide staff training so they know how to deal with vulnerable customers.

Professor Wendy Wills, the leader of the project and Director of the Centre of Research in Primary Community Care, said: “Supermarkets that introduce creative, practical measures to improve the shopping experience for older customers can play a leading role in protecting older people’s food security, and appeal to an increasingly important target market.”

To find out more about the events and keep up to date with the project, visit:

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