I am a working class academic.

  • I lecture in sociology, public health nutrition and dietetics.
  • An experienced qualitative researcher, my current work is an ethnographer working with community food projects in South East London to understand ‘the role of communities in feeding all in need’.
  • I actively advocate the Right To Food as a means to tackling nutritional and structural inequalities.

As a food policy expert and social scientist, I focus on food, health and inequalities in London. This is based on professional experience as a dietitian, doctorate in Food Policy that evolved from policy failures in tackling ‘childhood obesity’, and many years in community development and activism including campaigning around housing-regeneration projects, and domestic violence. This gives me depth of knowledge in how to meaningfully involve people in policy, collectivist actions and transformative policies.

Thinking about alternative food and health policies, I focus on class and neoliberalism. That includes work, women and the family; political ethics of care, universal public services and universal basic living income.

As a registered, and radical, dietitian, I align myself with Critical Dietetics and Dietitians for Social Justice.  Basing myself on good science, I link biological with sociocultural research and theory, considering histories and geographies, to understand the complexities of phenomena such as ‘obesity’.  Thus, I view ‘obesity’ as situated in neoliberalism. As such it serves social divisions in families, communities and class. It labels others, and we self-label, in destructive discrimination, and internalisation of stigma.

For me, the reality of ‘obesity’ is structural inequalities that are reproduced in health.  Everyone should have right to nutritious food and good health, to access good nutrition and health services, and to have the freedom of thought to ‘love the skin we’re in’, in all our shapes and sizes. I am a campaigner for nutritional equality as part of structural changes in reducing social inequalities.

Speaking at community meeting in North Woolwich 2018, organised by the Cultural Engine, Weight Stigma Conference Prague, 2017 and on the picket line supporting hospitality workers in 2018.


I’m London born, of an Irish immigrant, working-class family. I became politically active aged 16 years and left school with hopes to change the world! I became involved in community development, particularly campaigning for legislative changes around domestic violence. From this, my passionate concern for women and children’s health evolved. Aged 35 years, I went on to higher education and became a registered dietitian at 40, and a children’s dietitian soon after. I specialised in child weight management, that is ‘obesity’, for 11 years, in multi-disciplinary clinical settings. I pursued research while working for the NHS and my doctorate in Food Policy was awarded by City, University of London.

Food and health research

As food and health researcher my interests are: class, family, food and health, and power – modes of resistance and social change.  My undergraduate dissertation, in 2001, involved 40 working-class women, from a council estate in London, in a 3-month nutrition and exercise project. This work received a national public health award from the Caroline Walker Trust.

In 2001, I received the Kings Fund Millennium Leadership Award for a nutrition intervention with Vietnamese mothers in South East London. The project included food research carried out in London and Ho Chi Minh.

My doctorate was awarded in 2018. It explored mismatch between food policy relevant to ‘obesity’, and working-class parents of higher weight children. To understand the reality of policy as lived by working class parents, interviews were carried out with policy actors at the interface of the local state, a London borough. Of 31 interviews, 13 were with working-class parents. Multiple interconnected disconnects were found.

I am passionate about collaborative work to further knowledge and new thinking on policy, and democratic meaningful involvement in food policy-making, linking with:

  • Policy and health practitioners, academics, and communities to examine resistance and how to meaningfully involve people – in particular, working-class people – in food policy-making
  • People as experts by experience, such as parents of higher weight children, food workers, and communities on food poverty
  • ‘Obesity’, for example, in collaboration with London Region of the Association of Study of Obesity

Since 2016 I have presented at many conferences, including: American Association of Geographers – People Centred Food Policy stream, Boston (USA), and British Sociological Association Medical Sociology and Food Group Conferences, England, Critical Management Studies: Reorganising the neo-liberal food system: Evolution, Rebellion or Revolution? Weight Stigma Conferences in Prague (Czech Republic) and Leeds, and UKCO (UK Congress on Obesity) in Wales.

Activism and campaigns

My current focus is initiating and supporting campaigns, education and actions, that advance struggles against food and health inequalities.  I am active in building campaigns:

  • The Right To Food – Ian Byrne MP’s national campaign and Right To Food London.
  • Food Inequalities Rebellion (campaigning against food inequalities in all its forms: food poverty and hunger, weight bias and stigma, privatisation and charitisation of social nutrition. Campaigning for social rights and universal services.
  • London Labour for Grenfell: building London wide support for the survivors and bereaved, and organising across London with activists, trade unions and communities to ensure such atrocities never happen again.
  • People Not Poverty: a Southwark Charter
  • Liquid: Kids on Water – tacking inequalities through water sports


  • Socialist Health Association
  • Medact (health professionals campaigning for the human right to health)
  • Dohad (Developmental Origins of Health and Disease)
  • Unite The Union
  • University and College Union
  • British Dietetic Association (public health and obesity specialist groups)
  • Labour Party
  • Critical Dietetics


Noonan-Gunning, S., Lewis, K., Kennedy, L., Swann, J., Arora, G. Keith, R. (2021) Is England’s public health nutrition system in crisis? A qualitative analysis of the capacity to feed all in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. World Nutrition. https://worldnutritionjournal.org/index.php/wn/article/view/795 https://doi.org/10.26596/wn.202112283-103

Noonan-Gunning, S., (2020) Work and the ethics of care: Working class mothers of higher weight children. The Sociological Review. https://thesociologicalreview.org/magazine/october-2020/food/work-and-the-ethics-of-care-working-class-mothers-of-higher-weight-children

Noonan-Gunning, S. Social Implications of Weight Bias Internalisation: Parents’ Ultimate Responsibility as Consent, Social Division and Resistance’ Frontiers in Psychology (2019) https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02321/full

Swinburn et al., The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change: The Lancet Commission report. Lancet (2019) 27 January 2019 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)32822 (Panel 4  contributor not named author).

Noonan-Gunning, S. O’Keefe, E. (2020) Health Equity and Civil Society: Levers for Reducing ‘Child Obesity’ in Ending Child Poverty Twenty Years On 20 years on. Unison

My thesis is available in full: http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/20096/


Conference presentations


BSA Annual Conference 2023 – Sociological Voices in Public Discourse.

The role of communities in feeding all in need – Stream Name: Culture, Media, Sport & Food


6th Annual Weight Stigma Conference, Leeds, UK: Social implications of weight bias internalisation: consent, resistance

Weight Stigma Conference 2018 18 6 18 (1)


American Association of Geographers – People Centred Food Policy stream, Boston (USA)

‘Nutrition Justice: Policy, Parents and Child Fatness’: Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting 2017 SNG Abstract; AAG Conference 2017

British Sociological Association Food Group Conference

Food, Class and child ‘obesity’ :BSA Food Group Conference poster 2017

Mothers’ work and child health in context of ‘obesity‘ (pecha kucha): BSA Food Group 2017 Mothers’ work and child health in the context of obesity 25 06 17

Weight Stigma Conference (Prague)

Parents, public policy and stigma : https://stigmaconference.com/prague-2017/

Critical Management Studies: Reorganising the neo-liberal food system: Evolution, Rebellion or Revolution?

Neoliberalism, foodscapes and child health: Critical Management Studies 2017; Critical Management Studies Food system reform or revolution 2017

UK Congress on Obesity (UKCO ).

Parents, policy and stigma: UK Congress on Obesity 2017


British Sociological Association Medical Sociology Conference:

‘Nutrition Justice: Policy, Parents and Child Fatness’: BSA Medical Sociology Conference 2016 Abstract; BSA Med Sociology Conference 2016


Critical Dietetics

‘Nutrition Justice: Policy, Parents and Child Fatness: Critical Dietetics 2015