Poor ‘Do Not Have A Worse Diet’

People on low incomes have similar diets to the rest of the population, a government report has said. The Food Standards Agency found that contrary to popular belief, nutrition, access to food and cooking skills are not much different in poorer families.

{mosimage}However, the agency pointed out that the whole population was not eating as healthily as it should be. There had been concern that diets among those on the lowest incomes in the country were extremely poor and they faced more barriers to healthy eating. It is widely accepted that poor diets can lead to chronic disease, such as heart disease and cancer, and contribute to obesity.

But a survey of 3,500 people on low incomes found that the food they were eating, although not particularly healthy, was similar to the general population. Also 80% said they shopped mainly at a large supermarket and most had good cooking and food storage facilities at home. Around 91% of women and 64% of men in the study claimed to be able to “cook from basic ingredients”.

Areas of the diet that were slightly worse in the survey, which covered the poorest sixth of the population, were consumption of fruit and vegetables and intake of sugar, particularly sugary drinks.

Levels of obesity were found to be very high – 62% of men, 63% of women, 35% of boys and 34% of girls were overweight or obese – but the FSA said this also mirrors the high levels within the general UK population. The survey found higher levels of smoking and alcohol consumption, together with lower levels of activity, than the general population.

Rosemary Hignett, head of nutrition at the FSA said: “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. 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. 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.”

Dr Alan Maryon Davis, president of the Faculty of Public Health said the results were surprising and experts had always thought the gap was bigger. Although he added that if the results were compared with those in the most affluent sixth of the population there would probably be a greater difference.

“It’s encouraging people in the lowest income bracket are not eating a worse diet than the bulk of the population but, and it’s a big but, the bulk of the population is not eating a healthy diet,” he said.

British Retail Consortium director general Kevin Hawkins said: “This report confirms that British retailers have made healthy food accessible to families of all incomes. Today an average trolley of food from the supermarket costs 7% less in real terms than it did in 2000 and 15% less than in 1990.”