Family Nutrition and Social Policy
Posted Wednesday, October 22, 2008


One of the largest obstacles for many people who are trying to improve their diet is that eating is often a social event. For families, bettering nutrition and diet can be a complicated endeavor as there are likely to be different dietary needs for members of family units dependent on gender, weight, and age differences. The diverse nature of modern family life must be taken into account for dietary concerns, and yesterday researchers from the University of Sheffield sought to address this issue. Their points for the UK can easily be taken to heart by those of us here in the US.

Professor Jackson of the University of Sheffield said: "If government advice on healthy eating is to have a serious impact, it needs to be framed within a better understanding of the diversity of our everyday family lives. Policies and interventions have often looked to redress a perceived deficit in family relationships and practices (e.g. parenting skills). Although government policy makes some acknowledgement of the impact of poverty and other social factors, this often takes second place to the 'blame' culture."

Much of deficiency in diet is a result of heightened consumption of junk food, often laden with empty calories and egregious fat content--the thing is, these are items are by far the cheapest (and most heavily marketed) items available, and so it is no surprise if junk food is taking up larger portions in the diet of impovershed segments of the population. From the U of Sheffield's press release:

Most people are aware that they need to eat 'five-a-day' but many don't achieve these targets because they are forced to act within their circumstances. Poorer families may be acting rationally when serving 'junk' food to their children knowing that 'healthier' meals will simply go to waste. To truly improve the nation's diet a better understanding of social and cultural conventions is required in order to inform more effective health advice and social policy around families and food.

The preview release is a very interesting look into the socio-economical circumstances of diet, and when more is made available we will share it with you. Below are a link back to the EurekaAlert press release, the homepage for the Changing Families, Changing Food project, as well as a few more facts from the project's research.

University of Sheffield: Changing Families, Changing Food
Eureka Alert: Nutrition advice best served with family in mind

  • While the emphasis on women's body size and shape is often seen as a current preoccupation, the research shows that women's magazines have been full of dietary advice since the 1940s, even though the nature of that advice has changed dramatically over time
  • The introduction of 'Healthy Start' (food support benefit for pregnant women) has meant that a higher proportion of pregnant and postnatal women met the recommended intakes for key nutrients, like calcium, folate, iron and vitamin C but at a cost of a considerably increased calorie intake. The results also suggested that 'Healthy Start' women ate significantly more portions of fruit and vegetables per day.
  • While many people have seen the decline of the 'family meal' as a sign of the breakdown of contemporary family life, the research suggests that even in the Edwardian period (in the early 1900s), family meals were a middle-class aspiration rarely achieved in practice

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