Healthy eating wall

NHS.UK is doing more to address the nation’s health and wellbeing gap, says Victoria Hunt (product lead for health promotion, NHS.UK).

The NHS.UK Transformation programme has been running for two years. So far, it’s focused on transforming Choices content about conditions, medicines and services.

Of the areas as yet untouched, the Choices health promotion products (comprising Live Well, Pregnancy & baby, NHS Health Check, Fitness Studio, Contraception guide and Moodzone) are some of the biggest and most complex.

Prevention is better than cure

The first of three challenges set out in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View – the “health and wellbeing gap” – underlines the importance of identifying user needs in these areas:

“If the nation fails to get serious about prevention then recent progress in healthy life expectancies will stall, health inequalities will widen, and our ability to fund beneficial new treatments will be crowded out by the need to spend billions of pounds on wholly avoidable illness.” 

As lead for the Healthy eating discovery – the first health promotion discovery for NHS.UK – a question I’m often asked is, why did you start with healthy eating? 

Given the estimated cost to the NHS for “poor diet-related ill-health” is several billion pounds a year (more than costs related to smoking, alcohol or physical inactivity), it’s clear that anything NHS.UK can do to help the population of England to make healthier diet choices – reducing their risk of diabetes, some cancers, cardiovascular disease and obesity – is an investment worth making. 

Healthy eating on NHS Choices

When surveyed in 2016, 13.3% of users coming to our site were looking for information to help them lose weight or eat more healthily, while up to 8% of our vast traffic is to nutrition-related content (up to 200 pages of information, tools and videos), equating to around 50 million visits a year across NHS Choices, with satisfaction scores of over 80%.

A site map of our healthy eating pages shows that while a lot of this content sits under Live Well, nutrition advice also features elsewhere on the site. Two examples are diet common health questions and content for pregnant women wanting to know what foods to avoid in pregnancy.

While most of Choices’ traffic comes from Google, it’s notable that a significant slice of visits to our nutrition pages comes from other channels. This suggests that while people may not actively search as much in this area, they’ll click and share if they see it on Facebook.

We’re also conscious that much of our content was developed up to a decade ago, and times have changed particularly in this area. Our users now have many of their “healthy eating” information needs met through online platforms that were just emerging or didn’t exist when Choices was born, including iPhone apps (2007), Instagram (2010), Pinterest (2010) and Snapchat (2011). Even YouTube was in its infancy, having started in 2005.

We know that while there is a lot of useful and usable content on our site, there’s also a fair amount of duplication, repetition and frustrated user journeys. Discovery affords us the chance to step back, survey the landscape, analyse the data, talk to users and work out what the NHS online can and should be doing in this space, alongside our Public Health England (PHE) partners at Change4Life and One You.

What have we done so far? 

Discovery highlights this summer include:

  • a half-day Inception event with key PHE partners
  • desk research including competitor analysis, existing stats, user feedback, site metrics, surveys and other analytics in this area
  • 21 in-home or lab interviews with members of the public about their eating choices and behaviours in Bedford, Birmingham, Leeds and London
  • writing up detailed pen portraits including user needs which will eventually become user personas
  • running a short survey on Choices healthy eating pages to recruit more people and find out what they came to the site for
  • creating an ecology map to provide an overview of what’s involved in helping a user become a healthy eater
  • running a Show and Tell and keeping our partners updated on user research sessions (including streaming details) via a private Slack channel

Our team!  

From l to r: service designer Karen Percy, content designer Kirsty Sas, business analyst Jagruti Shah and NHS Digital intern Elena Sheldon

Product lead Victoria Hunt (left) with Kirsty

Pictured here is most of the current team with our project wall(s) in Buckingham Palace Road visible behind. Having started with a small, stretched team including just one full-time contractor, it’s made a big difference to have our team grow. Once our new user researcher joins we’ll have five core team members, most of whom are full-time on the project, plus our delivery manager (Dan Leakey) and Elena our intern.

We’re grateful to lots of colleagues who have supported us on our journey so far. Special thanks to Nic Masefield who has pulled together a lot of the analytics reports for us, and Matt George who facilitated our Inception event and continues to share his Agile expertise.

What’s next?

We’re on a ‘soft pause’ as our user researcher is due to start next week. We’ve been taking the time to review the huge amount of data gathered and user research done so far; finishing off pen portraits, turning our initial assumptions into evidenced hypotheses and our pen portraits into personas.

Healthy eating is such a broad subject with so many touchpoints (for example, a pregnant woman’s needs around healthy eating will differ from those of an older person at risk of diet-related illness). So we’d like to speak to more users and also healthcare professionals and relevant charities before the end of the discovery.

Our next Show and tell is at 10.30am on Tuesday 8th August, Nightingale, 1st floor, Buckingham Palace Road. Please contact Dan Leakey if you would like to join the distribution list. For any questions about the project, please get in touch.


  1. Nice to hear you are starting work on health promotion, healthy eating is definitely a worthwhile place to begin, good luck with the discovery.

  2. Comment from Pete Davies

    It’s great you are in your discovery phase for a subject that’s so important to us all (several times a day!). All power :)


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