‘Eat well, move more, live longer’?: Researching the promotion of healthy lifestyles in a deprived neighbourhood

Dr Oliver Williams, School of Sociology


About Oliver Williams

After completing undergraduate and master’s degrees at Loughborough University, Oliver joined Leicester’s Department of Sociology in 2010. As a Graduate Teaching Assistant he taught alongside conducting doctoral research. He graduated in July 2015 at which point he was already working at the University of Abertay Dundee as a Lecturer in Physical Activity and Public Health. He has since been successful in securing a NIHR CLAHRC West Dan Hill Fellowship in Health Equity and is now based at the University of Bath.

His research focuses on health inequalities. He engages with the disparity in opportunity and possibility presented to people throughout British society. He is particularly interested in the experiences of those living in deprived areas and is critical of the current conceptualisation of a ‘healthy lifestyle’ and its promotion as a set of individual choices. He is committed to using research for social change which promotes equitable outcomes.


Dr Oliver WilliamsAround the time Oliver started his doctoral research, Professor Danny Dorling described ‘The Scandal of Our Times’: Britain becoming so unequal that being born in one place rather than another can reduce someone’s life-expectancy by over fourteen years. These figures become even more extreme at a smaller, local level. Inequality of this scale was last seen during the recession of the 1880s and exists today despite significant social and medical advances since then. This scandal is part of a wealth-health trend whereby we consistently see patterns linking affluence with good health and social disadvantage with poor health. The evidence is convincing – health is an inherently social attribute. Despite this, health is now more commonly considered an individual issue. Politicians and popular culture promote the idea that health is achieved by simply choosing to live a ‘healthy lifestyle’. The UK government promotes health through their Change4Life campaign with the slogan: Eat well, Move more, Live Longer. Oliver’s research engages with the complexities of promoting health in such simplistic terms within a country characterised by stark inequalities.

It focuses on a neighbourhood which, due to high levels of local deprivation, was the target of a decade-long area-based intervention. Promoting physical activity – and healthy lifestyles more generally – became a prominent feature of the local project. Oliver spent sixteen months in the neighbourhood collecting data to find out about the everyday experiences of local people and what difference the intervention had made to their lives. His findings demonstrate how and why living in a deprived neighbourhood inhibits healthy lifestyles. They also illustrate the potential for area-based interventions to lack long-term impact and to have detrimental health outcomes. In this lecture he discusses these findings and argues that change is not only possible but entirely necessary to create a fair, vibrant and healthy society.



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