A new project officer, Fiona McAllister, was appointed in September 2007 to work 2 days per week for 8 months.
Fiona will focus her energies on a specific area of food and mental health (yet to be decided), to develop a campaign strategy which will create opportunities for change. Fiona is currently developing her work plan and consulting key members of the network.
Sustain submitted a paper to Professor Alan Jackson, Chair of SACN, setting out the background to its research and concerns, and key findings of our review of the scientific literature. It also set out an argument for why SACN could, through a systematic review of the evidence for the links between food and mental health, stimulate useful activity to contribute to the prevention and effective treatment of mental health disorders.
Fiona McAllister joined the Food and Mental Health project in September and is working part-time to develop ideas for policy and campaigns, in consultation with network members and others. There are already encouraging signs that the time is right for developing work in this important area, notably:
- The Associate Parliamentary Food & Health Forum inquiry into the links between diet, mental health and behaviour (to which the project submitted evidence) which held an additional session on 25 October and which we expect will report in January.
- The government's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) replied to our letter, sent in the spring, requesting a submission from Sustain for consideration by their 'horizon scanning' committee, with a view to a possible future systematic review of the evidence for the links between food and mental health. This has now been submitted.
- The FSA's long-awaited research on the link between certain additives and bad behaviour in young children was published in September, establishing scientific evidence where effects had been dismissed in the past, by the food industry and regulators, as 'anecdotal'.
Fiona has been arranging meetings with key contacts, and getting in touch with supporting organisations, for discussions to help identify suitable areas of activity for her to pursue. Several promising avenues are already opening up.
Fiona is also reviewing the food and mental health pages of the Sustain website, with a view to including more case studies of projects around the country that have shown the benefits of food activities for mental health and well-being, and to start reporting on policy developments and emerging ideas.
The Parliamentary Food and Health Forum has opened an inquiry into food, mental health and behaviour. The forum has asked Courtney to make a presentation, which will take place at the end of April.
Courtney has written to the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), to remind it of our previous correspondence and request that it include elements of diet and mental health in its next “Horizon Scanning” meeting, scheduled for next Autumn.
Courtney has made approaches to several funders to develop the project, with no success to date. A volunteer with a background in public health and health inequalities, is writing a short paper on possible future directions for the project. This paper should be available by June to form the basis of a project review and possible funding proposal.
Courtney, along with Lisa Wilson, attended a networking meeting for the Citizens' Advice Bureau (CAB), presenting the work of Sustain and its relevance to the work of the CAB. A number of useful contacts were made and laid the foundation for potential future joint projects.
Courtney gave a presentation to headteachers at the Islington Food in Schools conference in January, about the connection between diet and mental health in children. She continues to produce the popular monthly e-summaries for the network of relevant research and policy developments.
The meeting with Rosie Winterton, the Minister of State for Health Services took place at the end of February, with positive results. The Parliamentary Food and Health Forum may shortly hold an inquiry into food and behaviour, and has requested copies of Changing Diets, Changing Minds.
The responses to the Green Paper on Mental Health in Europe from the European Commission have now been collated and a summary published. We were pleased to see specific mention of the comments made about the role of a healthy diet in the relatively short summary.
We continue to be grateful to the Tudor Trust for supporting this project. We are currently reviewing our work on food and mental health, with a view to developing new projects.
Along with our portfolio partners, were very disappointed to learn in December that our application to the Big Lottery's Well-being bid was unsuccessful. We also learned around the same time that our application to the John Ellerman Foundation was unsuccessful. Future options for the project are under discussion.