By Alice Clifford via SWNS
Cash-strapped parents "treat" their kids to unhealthy junk food to make up for not being able to afford to take them on expensive trips and holidays, suggests a new study.
Researchers found that a key reason moms and dads on low incomes splash out on fattening fried chicken, burgers, fries and pizzas is to "compensate" for non-food related activities which support social well-being - but are simply beyond their budget.
The research team explained that what families eat is influenced by their "food environment" - the places selling food close to where they live and the promotions they offer.
But unhealthy takeout is much cheaper than healthy options and often have deals to make them even more affordable.
The study also suggests that the option of unhealthy takeout can be a social activity that brings the family together in a cheap way.
While going on vacation, and going to the movies or the zoo are expensive for the whole family, the researcher says that buying takeout is affordable and can be a treat.
Principal investigator Professor Corinna Hawkes, Director of the Center for Food Policy at the City University of London, said: “Given the wonderful food available in this country, it’s a travesty how many people’s health is damaged by poor quality diets.”
The study, published in the journal Health and Place, involved 60 parents, 56, of them moms, on low incomes.
Each participant came from deprived neighborhoods across three regions of England: Great Yarmouth, Stoke-on-Trent and Lewisham, south east London. They were all over 18-years-old, had a child in school or nursery and were the main shopper in the family.
All the participants were interviewed about their food practices at home. The interviewer asked about what foods they buy and eat and how each member of the family gets involved.
Most of the participants then sent over photos throughout the week of things that made it more difficult or easier for them to buy the food they wanted.
Additionally, 22 people gave a guided tour of where they shop and what they buy.
The study revealed that low-income parents buy unhealthy food due to its availability, cheapness, marketing and want to give their family a treat that is affordable.
To combat the problems revealed by the study, the authors recommend creating more cost-effective family activities in low-income communities, while also making existing activities cheaper. This will give parents more ways to spend quality time with their families.
Their findings also show that taking away promotions on unhealthy food and adding them to healthier food places would help families eat well on a budget.
Going further than just food, more benefit schemes are needed, as well as better living wage policies to help people financially.
Hawkes added: “The study shows that the pathway forward involves understanding how people experience food in their everyday realities.
“Policy to address inequalities will only work if it recognizes that food is more than just nutrition and must meet a wider range of people’s needs, such as social and economic well-being.”
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