Making Sense of Food

Rhianon Urquhart, Principal Health Promotion Specialist

Public Health Wales


Trying to understand how people choose the food they eat and the impact it has on their health is really complex – see the figure below, which visualises the complexity. Trying to force change on people and their food choices is even harder. Research shows that those who need the healthiest food the most find it hardest to access – for this project, we’ve called this the Inverse Food Law.

Obesity Systems Map
The Obesity Systems Map, Foresight Commission 2007


We have been trying to find a way to change people’s food choices for the better where there’s little agreement on what needs to be done and a lack of certainty about the best way forward. To start with, we have brought together a number of stakeholders from different agencies and interests to help them understand each other in order that they can work together more effectively.

Secondly, we have been working with residents to better understand how different determinants impact on their food choices – with the support of our partner agencies.

We will collect this information using the SenseMaker system, and then use those insights to guide the actions and interventions of the newly established Food Vale partnership as a whole.


Getting the different stakeholders interested, involved and sharing resources has taken a lot of effort but has laid the foundations for the long-term impact of this project.

Fit with prudent health:

The time taken to co-produce the Food Vale approach has been challenging but rewarding.

We are targeting those in greatest need in the more deprived areas within the Vale. We aim to do only what’s needed using the insights from SenseMaker and Network members. We aim to reduce variation in access and affordability of healthy foods.

There’s an old African Proverb which says ‘if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ We want Food Vale to go far, which has meant putting a great deal of effort into this part of the process.

It’s also very easy to be busy, but harder to achieve and make long-term change. The Bevan Commission has provided the opportunity to reflect on how to approach and develop this work and the time to talk and share ideas has been invaluable.

Part of cohort Bevan Exemplar Projects 2016-17