Skip to main content

Reframing school food policy

15 May 2013

Cardiff research that has had a major influence on school food policy and practice in and beyond the UK has been recognised for its outstanding impact.

Professor Kevin Morgan and Dr Roberta Sonnino of the School of Planning and Geography were awarded the Economic and Social Research Council's (ESRC) Celebrating Impact Prize in the Public Policy category.

Their research helped local and national policy-makers to visualise what a healthier and more sustainable school food service looked like in practice and how the school food chain could be reformed to make it happen. Their study was one of the first to explore the scope for integrating food production and consumption via public procurement.

Dr Sonnino said: "The value of this research lies primarily in the ways in which it has enabled the school food policy community at local and national levels to understand the key components of a healthier and more sustainable school food system. Far from being a purely conceptual innovation, the research was also instrumental in re-shaping legislation and enabling behavioural change by exposing policy-makers and professional practitioners to good practice in and beyond the UK.  

Professor Morgan said: "It's a great honour to win this ESRC award because all researchers hope that their research will have a positive impact beyond the academy. The key aim of our project was to offer a robust analysis of what was wrong with the conventional school food system in the UK and to visualise a more sustainable school food system by drawing on the experience of innovative municipalities from elsewhere in Europe and North America. I hope the award helps to put Cardiff University on the research impact map because many of our colleagues are doing equally valuable research and one hopes they'll get the credit that they deserve".

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Professor Morgan and Dr Sonnino's research inspired the reform of public policy at national and local levels in England, Scotland and Wales. In England it was used extensively to help to design the Food for Life Partnership, which is one the most transformative school food programmes in Europe in terms of its reach (more than 3,000 schools) and its comprehensive approach to school meal reform. In Scotland it helped to translate local good practice into national policy through the academics' direct participation in the task force that designed the national food and drink policy Walking the Talk – Getting Government Right. In Wales, the research prompted the Welsh Government's reform of the national school food policy, Appetite for Life, and is now having a wider impact on procurement policy across the public sector.

Through the research, UK school food policy has become a reference point for reformers all over the world. To date, Professor Morgan and Dr Sonnino have been invited to present their findings at a range of high profile policy and practice events in Italy, USA, Brazil, Finland, Czech Republic, Poland, Canada, Denmark, Holland, Austria and Portugal. Most notably, the UN's World Food Programme has drawn extensively on the research to inform its own creative procurement programme - Purchase for Progress.  

The ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize is a new, annual opportunity to recognise and reward the successes of ESRC-funded researchers who have achieved, or are currently achieving, outstanding economic and/or societal impacts. The prize celebrates outstanding ESRC research and success in collaborative working, partnerships, engagement and knowledge exchange activities that have led to significant impact.

The ESRC is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector.

Recently, the Chief Executive of the ESRC, Professor Paul Boyle visited the University and met with staff and ESRC funded PhD students. Cardiff is one of the most successful universities in the UK in terms of research income from the ESRC, featuring in their top 12 institutions to have been awarded funding for high-quality research.