Children from poor families are more likely to eat junk food, claim researchers
15:52 GMT, 23 August 2012
15:52 GMT, 23 August 2012
Young children from poor families are more likely to consume junk food and fizzy drinks than their better off counterparts, it was claimed today.
A study of 1,800 four and five year olds found more than half (54.5 per cent) of those from deprived backgrounds drank at least one a week, compared to just four in ten affluent kids.
They also drank less milk and consumed more fruit juice which is also linked to child obesity caused by high sugar intake.
Researchers found that children from poor homes were far more likely to eat junk food and drink fizzy drinks.
The phenomenon also related to children who spend more than two hours a day in front of a TV or playing computer games – whatever their social circumstances.
A companion study also found children from low and medium-income neighbourhoods were more likely to eat chips, sweets and chocolate.
Professor Kate Storey, of the University of Alberta, Canada, said: 'When you are looking at that age group, and such a large percentage of very young kids in the study are consuming a large amount of soda, it is quite concerning.'
The researchers carried out the study by surveying the parents of their participants to find out their dietary habits.
Professor Storey said: 'If you are drinking a lot of soda and fruit juice, that can displace consumption of water and milk, which are important not just for quenching thirst, but for developing healthy bones and teeth, and health and wellness in general.'
The study, part of a larger project looking at nutritional habits of preschoolers, is among the first to gather data on children of such an early age.
Researchers found similar drinking habits among preschoolers who spent more than two hours of 'screen time' per day-watching TV or playing video games.
Kids from poorer neighbourhoods sat in front of screens more often, and drank larger volumes of sweetened beverages.
Researchers also found children who played computer games for more than two hours a day were likely to eat junk food and drink fizzy drinks.
Co-researcher Dr John Spence said: 'Dietary behaviour and intake patterns are influenced heavily by what happens in the first few years with children, and they maintain those patterns throughout childhood and into adolescence.
'In addition to basic health education, this study identifies a need in how we are dealing with poverty and recognising there is more to poverty than simply the number of dollars people have.
'Many families live in places that might not be very healthy for them and, as a result, they make unhealthy food choices.'
A companion study involving the same group of preschoolers also looked at the types of foods they ate and whether they followed recommendations in Canada’s Food Guide.
The researchers found just 30 per cent of children ate enough fruits and vegetables, and 23.5 per cent consumed the recommended amount of servings of grain products.
The same problem did not exist with milk and meat or alternatives-a respective 91 per cent and 94 per cent of kids ate recommended servings.
As with sweetened beverages, children in high income areas were less likely to eat foods like potato chips, fries, candies and chocolate.
Those results presented an 'alarming pattern,' said Dr Spence, who suggests it is possible families are choosing high-calorie foods because they are cheap and convenient.
But, he added, the neighbourhood itself could also be a factor in food choices.
He said: 'There are cities in North America where, literally, you have food deserts.
'If you wanted to go out and buy some lettuce and tomatoes, you’d have to travel very far-very likely without a car.
'You are not going to do that every time you want to get some food, so maybe you are going to resort to the convenience store down the road.'
At least one glimmer of hope is children who attended daycare or kindergarten were significantly less likely to reach for junk.
Professor Storey said that illustrates how education can make a difference and lead to healthier eating habits, regardless of what is happening at home.
'You can start making a difference in different places,' she said.
'It calls for action in multiple settings, schools and communities, for example.
'That light-bulb moment can happen in a variety of places.'