New research reveals social stresses have a major influence on what people eat

5 November, 2008. safefood research has revealed that social stresses which are part of daily life for many people from low socio-economic backgrounds are a major contributor to an unhealthy diet. The consequences of an unhealthy diet for longer term health include heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and some cancers. The research was launched at the safefood Food Poverty Conference in Dundalk earlier today.

Some of the stresses found in the report were financial worries, insecure housing tenure, unemployment, local crime, social disorder and the demands of childcare. Dr. Cliodhna Foley Nolan, Director of Human Health and Nutrition, safefood commented, “Our research revealed that low socio-economic status groups feel that they have less control of their health . Cost appears to play a secondary role when compared to other barriers to healthy eating including social stresses . These groups were more accepting of being overweight, and were therefore less likely to make, or maintain changes to their diet.”

The safefood commissioned report entitled “Diet, Nutrient Intake and Attitudes among Disadvantaged Groups on the island of Ireland” examined the socio-economic differences in food group and nutrient intakes, and the attitudinal factors which contribute to these differences. The findings provide current evidence of the food and nutrient inequalities among disadvantaged groups on the island of Ireland. In particular, the research provides information on the barriers to healthy eating among disadvantaged young urban women, who were identified as being at particular risk of poverty and micronutrient inadequacy.

Dr. Foley Nolan continued, “The cultural acceptance of being overweight was also associated with a tendency towards so called “comfort eating”. Because this consists of eating for consolation, rather than enjoyment, food was frequently cited as the behavioural outcome of socially-mediated anxiety and depression.”

Those individuals in lower socio-economic groups have dietary patterns that include more treat foods which are energy dense but low in nutrients than their affluent peers. As a result, they are less likely to meet the healthy eating guidelines especially for fruit, vegetables and fibre. Women and children were found to be more vulnerable than men to these socio-economic status differences in food and nutrient intake.

Dr. Foley Nolan said, “Many parents are faced daily with making food choices between what their children want to eat and what they should eat. With so many advertising and marketing campaigns for unhealthy foods targeted at their children, parents are faced with the resulting demands for treats and high fat or high sugar foods, creating an additional stress.”

Dr. Daniel McCartney, School of Biological Sciences, Dublin Institute of Technology, said, “Food poverty is a complex issue that requires a coordinated cross-sectoral approach both at a policy and practical level. One of the recommendations of our report is that Social Marketing be employed to encourage greater involvement of the target group in the development of culturally appropriate messages. Making healthier eating the accepted norm among low socio-economic groups will require a sustained approach, incorporating community based, peer-led education programmes that place an emphasis on practical life skills.”

safefood has been operating in this territory for a number of years with a range of community based food initiatives and educational programmes targeted at children and parents including the recent ”Little Steps” and ”Treats Chart” campaigns. The aim of these initiatives is to provide practical advice on how people can take simple steps to improve their diet and lifestyle.

The safefood funded reports; “Diet, Nutrient Intake and Attitudes among Disadvantaged Groups on the island of Ireland”; Dublin Institute of Technology, Trinity College Dublin and University of Ulster, Coleraine and “Tackling Food Poverty; Lessons from the Decent Food for All (DFfA) Intervention²”; The Institute of Public Health in Ireland, will be launched, today, Wednesday 5th November, at the safefood Food Poverty Conference in Dundalk.

Copies of the reports are available on the safefood website, www.safefood.eu.

- Ends -

For further information please contact

Kate FitzGerald / Niamh Burdett

WHPR

(00353) 1 669 0030
(00353) 863873083 (Kate)

(00353) 86608 6764 (Nimh)

References

  • ¹ “Diet, Nutrient Intake and Attitudes among Disadvantaged Groups on the island of Ireland” Based on research by Dr. John Kearney, and Mr. Daniel McCartney, School of Biological Sciences, Dublin Institute of Technology, Kevin Street, Dr. Sinead McCarthy, Department of Clinical Medicine, Trinity College Dublin, Dr. Barbara Knox and Dr. Maria Barton, Northern Ireland Centre for Food & Health (NICHE), University of Ulster, Coleraine.
  • ² “Tackling Food Poverty; Lessons from the Decent Food for All (DFfA) Intervention. Kevin P. Balanda, Audrey Hochart, Steve Barron and Lorraine Fahy”. Dublin: Institute of Public Health in Ireland, 2008.

Editor’s Notes

How the “Diet, Nutrient Intake and Attitudes among Disadvantaged Groups on the island of Ireland” research was carried out

The research for the “Diet, Nutrient Intake and Attitudes among Disadvantaged Groups on the island of Ireland” Report was carried out in three parts. The initial investigations (Part1) examined a series of existing quantitative databases for differences in relation to food, nutrition and attitudes across socio-economic status.

The databases included the North/South Ireland Food Consumption Survey (NSIFCS), the National Children’s Food Survey (NCFS) and Republic of Ireland (ROI) data from three pan-EU studies which examined the attitudes and beliefs of consumers. This identified young, urban women of low socio-economic status (SES) as at particular increased risk of poverty and micronutrient inadequacy. They were thus selected as the study group for further detailed research in Part 2 exploring the material, structural, social and attitudinal factors influencing dietary behaviour among disadvantaged women.

A quantitative study was undertaken with a sample of n=295 women of mixed SES. This was complimented by a qualitative study of primarily women from low SES (Part 3). These methodologies were employed to fully capture the complex sociological processes which are thought to underpin food and nutrient intakes among low SES women.