London Metropolitan University is a shining example of how educational institutions can play a valuable role in fostering better health and nutrition among diverse communities.
The link between poverty and nutrition can go under the radar, but with soaring food insecurity across the world driving further inequalities in health, it’s causing immense harm to millions.
“We know that diverse communities can suffer disproportionately higher levels of poverty and income inequality,” explains Afshan Aghili, Senior Lecturer in Human Nutrition at London Metropolitan University, as part of their film with ITN Business, “and that can limit their access to nutritious food and healthcare.”
Research shows these communities are also at increased risk of diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and experience a lower quality of life. To find solutions to this widespread, generational problem, researchers, scientists and students at London Metropolitan University are combining their efforts to bring change and break down barriers to good health.
“We are a university that has social justice at its heart, and we provide opportunities for people to change their lives through education,” says Sarah Illingworth, Associate Professor and Head of Health Sciences at London Metropolitan University.
The university, known for its diverse student body, has a long standing commitment to public health research and improving lives within the community. When recruiting, the university considers the diverse backgrounds of its students and equips them with the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively communicate with communities that are most in need of healthcare information and support.
It’s not only working to develop a skilled workforce within the local community, it’s also improving the way healthcare professionals communicate with the wider population.
London Metropolitan University has been helping to address health inequalities through its health sciences courses and long-standing commitment to research on nutrition and health disparities.
Cutting edge facilities
To support these goals, London Met has recently invested in new, cutting-edge facilities, which, coupled with a focus on practical learning, provides an incredible platform for students to address real world issues caused by economic instability.
Their new health sciences facilities were launched in September 2023, adding to its already impressive £30m Science Centre.
The spaces that the facilities provide are customisable for multiple setups and the university is continually exploring innovative ways to use them.
The skills and simulation suite
Its new skills and simulation suite enables the university to provide an even higher quality of simulated experiences for its healthcare courses.
The suite provides learning facilities for students that puts them in real world scenarios, giving them opportunities to develop the skills they’ll need in a real-life setting without facing patients straight away — helping them to first build up their skills and confidence.
The suite offers a range of environments; a traditional ward, a critical care setting featuring a paediatric ward, and — to ensure a community feel is prioritised alongside these more conventional medical settings — two domestic environments in the form of two flats.
One flat caters to assisted living needs, while the other serves as a standard flat. Within these settings, students can interact with actors to develop their skills in patient interaction.
“One of the things we were really keen to do was allow students to build skills to work in home environments,” says Sarah. “We really wanted students to feel confident and competent in that setting.”
What’s more, the facilities boast an immersive ‘igloo’ room that functions as a versatile blank canvas, capable of transporting students into various scenarios, whether it be a roadside emergency, a clinic, or a hospital ward, using projection and virtual reality technology.
In this room, students can also learn about anatomy, physiology, and laboratory techniques.
All these experiences are recordable, serving as valuable resources for review and learning from past activities.
Innovative initiatives: From kitchens labs to real homes
Within the university’s Health Sciences department, the kitchen labs are a place where students can work to transition their skills into a real-life public health setting. With a grounding in science, these are skills that can be applied to nutrition, nursing, physiotherapist or sports.
Within the kitchen labs, students get involved in cooking demonstrations where they develop their skills in modifying diets and designing nutritionally healthy and balanced recipes.
But even at this stage, their work is extending beyond the labs and benefiting the wider community.
In 2020, London Met partnered with charity Voices of Hope on the BRITE Box initiative (Building Resilience in Today’s Environment), a project dedicated to delivering recipe kits — complete with ingredients and an illustrated recipe guide — to families in need of affordable, health-conscious meals. The scheme provided nutritious meals throughout the pandemic, and now supports students during term time.
“The benefits [of the Brite box] are improving the range of foods available, and exposing them to new foods and flavours. But it’s also dealing directly with food insecurity, which is a big problem at the moment,” says Dr Dee Bhakta, Head Researcher for Brite Box and Reader in Nutrition and Health at London Met.
The hope is that through initiatives that provide inspiration as well as support, more people will take opportunities to study healthcare courses, and join the health and social care workforces as confident, competent professionals with a passion for what they do.
To learn more about the exciting initiatives at London Met, and the university’s new cutting-edge facilities, watch their film, produced in partnership with ITN Business, and explore other interviews and insights over on our Nutrition for Life programme page.