The results of a new Canadian study indicate that a sugar-gap of sorts is correlated with income inequality. The research was conducted in the Edmonton area by researchers at the University of Alberta’s faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, School of Public Health, and Medicine & Dentistry
According to the Daily Mail online, children from poor households are more likely than their wealthier counterparts to consume soda pop, sugary fruit juices and junk food.
A study of 1,800 children aged four and five showed than almost 55 per cent of poor children drank at least one soda per week, as compared to about 40 per cent of wealthy children. Children from low-income backgrounds were also less likely to drink milk. Data from the study came from survey questions on dietary habits answered by parents in the Edmonton area.
Dietician and professor at the University of Alberta, Kate Storey, called the situation “quite concerning.”
Eating high amounts of sugar, common in fruit drinks and pop, has been linked to childhood obesity. Water and milk on the other hand are important for general wellbeing and the development of healthy bones and teeth.
A related study also showed that middle- and lower-class kids were more likely to consume chips, candy and chocolate.
Less than a third of children were found to eat enough fruits and vegetables while less than a quarter ate the recommended servings of grain, as per the Canada Food Guide. However, less than ten per cent of children did not get enough milk or meat products.
The study is a part of a larger undertaking looking at preschoolers’ nutrition. Interestingly, the results were similar to the dietary habits of preschoolers who had a lot of screen time (more than two hours of television watching or video game playing each day). Children from poor families also had more screen time.
The research will be published in this month’s issue of Public Health Nutrition and in the Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research.
“There is more to poverty than simply the number of dollars people have,” said researcher Dr. John Spence. “Many families live in places that might not be very healthy for them and, as a result, they make unhealthy food choices.”
Part of the solution may be in increasing access to better quality, nutrient-rich foods. Getting this done is more than a matter of increasing incomes or social assistance payments. Tackling “food deserts” is key, as families may have to drive long distance merely to get to a store selling fresh produce. The education of young children can also guide them toward healthier choices.
The research comes just as children are getting ready to head back to school, where the nutrition of food for sale has also been a source of discussion and reform. In the largest change to federal school-lunch programmes in 15 years, new guidelines in the United States taking effect this fall are limiting calorie and sodium levels in school meals. Schools must also offer nutrient-rich dark green, orange or red veggies/legumes once weekly. Kids will now be required to select one veggie or fruit per meal.
Previous research published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health found that children tend to make healthier meal choices at fast food joints if toys are limited to the more nutritious choices.