It is well documented that low socioeconomic status (SES) is associated with lower consumption of healthy foods and that such differences in consumption patterns are influenced by neighborhood food environments.
Researchers know less about the role that SES differences in the home food environment play in consumption patterns. Recently, a research team examined data collected on fourth-grade children in Texas to determine to what extent the availability of food at home, as well as food-related social factors, have an impact upon healthy versus unhealthy diets.
An article on the findings, titled “Socioeconomic inequalities in children’s diet: the role of the home food environment,” was published online July 27 by the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.
“This research suggests that the social environment around the family meal as well as foods that are available at the meal transcend the importance of the family’s overall socioeconomic status in determining the quality of children’s diets,” said Dr. Leslie A. Lytle, co-author of the study.
Dr. Lytle is a professor of health behavior and nutrition and chair of the department of health behavior at the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health.
The researchers used parental education levels as an indicator of SES and examined the effect of SES, as well as aspects of children’s home food environments and their neighborhood environments, upon the quality of the children’s diets.
The team found small but significant differences in children’s diet quality across parental education levels, but these were reduced to insignificance once the home food environment and the neighborhood environment were taken into account.
The home food environment includes social elements, such as mealtime structure, as well as physical attributes such as portion sizes served. These factors were found to have a stronger association with the consumption of healthy versus unhealthy foods than parents’ education levels.
Neighborhood poverty has a consistently negative effect upon children’s diets, and neighborhood cultural factors also impact the structuring of home food environments.