A new study suggests no direct link between dietary patterns and income, food access or cooking skills, according to the Food Standards Agency (F.S.A.). The study, "Low Income Nutrition and Diet Survey," was commissioned by the F.S.A. and involved 3,728 respondents across the United Kingdom during a 15-month period between November 2003 and January 2005.
According to the research, the dietary pattern of people on low incomes was about the same as the general population, although certain areas of the diet were slightly worse. In general, though, the survey found the population was not eating enough fruit, vegetables, or oily fish, but was consuming too much saturated fat and sugar.
In addition, the study found levels of obesity to be too high, with 62% of men, 63% of women, 35% of boys and 34% of girls deemed overweight or obese.
"The encouraging news from this research is that the gap between the diets of people on low incomes and those of the rest of the population is not as big as some feared," said Rosemary Hignett, head of nutrition at the F.S.A. "It is also positive that most people in this group say they feel confident about their cooking skills, have reasonable kitchen facilities and access to large supermarkets.
"However, the bad news is that this group — like the general population — are not eating as healthily as they could be. Poor diets can lead to chronic disease, such as heart disease and cancer, and contribute to obesity, which is on the rise. Small changes to diet can make a big difference to health so we urge everyone to think about the food that they and their family are eating."
In other findings from the survey, the F.S.A. noted individuals on low income budgets were less likely to eat wholemeal bread and vegetables and tended to drink more soft drinks and eat more processed meats, whole milk and sugar.
Less than 10% of respondents ate the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, with about 20% eating less than one portion per day.
Looking at social factors affecting food choice, the survey found 30% of men and 29% of women viewed price/value/money available for food as the most important influence on food choices. Thirty-five per cent of men and 44% of women said they wanted to change their diet, and 60% of parents/carers wanted to change their children’s diet.