Public Health & Prejudice
Public-health initiatives to promote healthy diets often focus on providing nutrition education and recipes. These approaches, however, often presume less food literacy (i.e. food knowledge and skills) among low-income people.
Are unhealthy diets really the result of poor choices, limited food skills, and knowledge?
Research suggests that, in fact, adults in food-insecure households are just as likely as those in food-secure households to adjust recipes to make them more healthy. They are also just as proficient in food preparation and cooking skills. There is no indication that increasing food skills or budgeting skills will reduce food insecurity.
Instead, disadvantaged groups are constrained by their economic, material and social circumstances.
Diet Quality Linked To Social Status
Research shows that in developed countries, wealthy and educated people tend to consume higher-quality diets —including more fruits and vegetables, fish, and whole grains.
Conversely, socioeconomically disadvantaged people report diets that are nutrient-poor and energy-dense, replete with foods like pasta, potatoes, table sugar, fried foods, and processed meats. This could be from a combination of reasons from less free time to easier food on the go.
People who are at a socioeconomic disadvantage are less likely to have food-purchasing habits that conform to public health recommendations.
This inverse relationship between social class and diet quality and health is extensively documented.
However, the research does not explain why this is the case —a question that has significant implications for designing effective policies and initiatives to improve diets and prevent chronic disease.
Higher-Quality Diets Are Costlier
It’s well-established that food prices are an important determinant of food choice, particularly among low-income consumers.
Low-income households report that they find it difficult to adopt dietary guidelines because food prices are a barrier to improving their diets.
When researchers estimate the cost of diets people actually eat, higher-quality diets are typically more costly. Research suggests healthier diets cost, on average, approximately $1.50 a day more than less healthy choices.
For low-income consumers, the cost of substituting healthier foods can represent up to 35 to 40 per cent of their food budget.