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Children who eat fast food regularly had consistently lower academic test scores, a new study shows
Even when controlling for economic and social conditions, dependence on fast food was linked to poorer academic performance.
A longitudinal study of 8,500 American schoolchildren shows a clear link between higher levels of fast food consumption and lower scores across several academic fields including mathematics, science, and reading comprehension, shows a study recently published in the journal of Clinical Pediatrics.
The study, which measured the fast-food consumption of subjects at age 10 and then followed up by looking at academic performance three years later (and controlled for more than two dozen potentially complicating factors) shows that of the sample population, a higher dependence on fast food as part of a regular diet was linked to decreased academic performance.
“Research has been focused on how children’s food consumption contributes to the child obesity epidemic. Our findings provide evidence that eating fast food is linked to another problem: poorer academic outcomes,” leading author Kelly Purtell at Ohio State University told The Telegraph.
Research suggests that poorer performance in school may be linked in two ways: a fast-food-heavy diet lacking in iron may slow down certain brain processes, or perhaps excess amounts of fat and sugar are responsible for diminished attention span and academic skills. Science test scores for the population, for instance, showed a clear example of the disparity created by a fast-food diet: those who ate fast food daily had an average test score of 79 percent, while those who never ate fast food (roughly a third of the sample) had an average score of 83 percent.
Junk Food Pros and Cons
Junk food is a slang word for foods with limited nutritional value and a high level of sugar, salts, fats and calories. Every person has their own list of foods that they call junk foods. Salted snack foods, burgers, pizzas, fries, candy, gum, most sweet desserts, fried fast food and carbonated beverages are some of the major junk foods. Generally, they offer little in terms of protein, vitamins or minerals and lots of calories from sugar or fat. But is has often been a topic of debate that burgers, pizzas and few other foods can be considered as junk depending on their ingredients as well as a method of preparation. Such foods containing a high amount of green and nutritious vegetable and cooked in a healthy manner can be a source of good nutrition if contain low-fat oil and low amount of salts, however these are mainly taste centred and most of the times do not contain anything nutritious and in-fact are high on salts, fats and calories. Regular consumption of junk food is the major reason for obesity.
Junk food is a great rage among children, especially teenagers with even a lot of adults falling for these junk foods these days. Despite being labelled as "junk", consuming such foods usually does not pose any immediate health concerns and is generally safe when integrated into a well-balanced diet. But poor hygiene maintained during the preparation and sub-standard quality of products used can lead to some major health problems. Junk food mainly affects human health due to concentrated sources of sugar or fat present in these foods which can increase weight if the calories are more than the need of the person. Junk foods have taken a permanent residence in the life of many as these are tasty, hassle free and easily available at any time. Also, these are loaded with a lot of sodium salts and sugar to increase the shelf life of such foods. Hence at times, these can pose a major health threat if consumed on a regular basis, however, having these food items just in a while for a taste change is a good idea but in routine can be dangerous.
New Study Reveals Why Children Prefer Junk Food Over Health Food
For the study, the researchers gather information from about 2,422 children between age five and six years from countries including China, Brazil, Pakistan, Russia, Nigeria and India. The participants were shown pictures of media characters, including both internationally and locally popular brands and they were asked to identify those pictures and characters. The results revealed that over about 60 percent were able to associate Coca-Cola swirl with an image of a soda glass.
The researchers also had children rate how much they loved and desired a variety of domestic and international products. Character and logo recognition in young children was consistently and significantly related to the selection of international over domestic products. The study found that influence of logo recognition was even stronger than that of media exposure.
According to the findings, the children who easily identified the logos of international food and beverage brands like Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), McDonald's and Coca-Cola, were more likely to prefer the processed foods marketed by these international brands.
"Our findings draw attention to the insidious and pervasive nature of marketing and how it impacts children's health," as quoted in IANS by principal investigator of the study Dina Borzekowski from the University of Maryland in the US. "Why would a five year old say that they want a Coca Cola over a lassi? Kentucky Fried Chicken over a stir-fried chicken and vegetable dish made by mom?" Borzekowski said.
Junk food has always been associated with various health risks, especially amongst kids. Here's what junk may do to a child's health-
1. May cause memory and learning problems
As per a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, healthy people who ate junk for only five days performed poorly on cognitive tests that measured attention, speed and mood. The study concluded that eating junk food for just five days regularly can deteriorate your memory.
2. Causes obesity
Junk food is mostly loaded with calories and has zero nutritional value. Consuming it may cause weight gain and obesity along with a host of other health problems.
3. Lessens the ability to control appetite
Excess consumption of trans fat found in processed food can send mixed signals to the brain that makes it difficult to process what you have eaten and how hungry you are.
4. May cause anxiety
Fast food is packed with refined carbohydrates that cause your blood sugar levels to fluctuate rapidly. If these blood sugar levels dip, it may cause anxiety, confusion and fatigue.
Boost the Memory
Even with breakfast, the brain can run out of fuel before lunch. In one study of students ages 7 to 9, having a midmorning snack improved memory. The children who ate a smaller breakfast and lunch but consumed a midmorning snack experienced a smaller decline in immediate and delayed memory. Attention was not affected, however. Zied recommends yogurt with blueberries this fruit has been linked to better memory in studies. A hard-boiled egg is also a good snack choice because eggs contain choline, a nutrient shown to improve memory in animal studies.
IELTS Mentor "IELTS Sample Answer & IELTS Preparation"
IELTS Writing Task 2/ IELTS Essay:
You should spend about 40 minutes on this task.
The number of overweight children in developed countries is increasing. Some people think this is due to problems such as the growing number of fast food outlets. Others believe that parents are to blame for not looking after their children's health.
To what extent do you agree or disagree with these views?
Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.
Write at least 250 words.
Model Answer 1:
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that children are overweight and the situation is getting worse, according to the medical experts. I feel there are a number of reasons for this.
Some people blame the fact that we are surrounded by shops selling unhealthy, fatty foods such as chips and fried chicken, at low prices. This has created a whole generation of adults who have never cooked a meal for themselves. If there were fewer of these restaurants, then children would not be tempted to buy takeaway food.
There is another argument that blames the parents for allowing their children to become overweight. I tend to agree with this view, because good eating habits begin early in life, long before children start to visit fast food outlets. If children are given chips, ice creams and chocolate rather than nourishing food, or are always allowed to choose what they eat, they will go for the sweet and salty foods every time, and this will carry on throughout their lives. Parents decide what to buy and let their children eat and many parents know and feel that their children are overweight and yet let them eat high calorie contained foods like fast foods. If parents try to make their kids understand that those type of fast foods are not good for their health and draw a restriction on how much their kids are allowed to eat then the problem can be solved partially.
There is a third factor, however, which contributes to the situation. Children these days take very little exercise. They do not walk to school. When they get home, they sit in front of the television or their computers and play video games. Not only is this an unhealthy pastime, it also gives them time to eat more junk food. What they need is to go outside and play active games or sport.
The two views discussed play an equal role in contributing to the problem, but I think we have to encourage young people to be more active, as well as steering them away from fast food outlets and bad eating habits. We need to have a balanced approach.
(Approximately 360 words)
(This model answer has been prepared by the site developer. However, please note that this is just one example out of many possible answers.)
Alternative Answer 2:
An increasing number of overweight children in many developing nations is a major problem which is always open for a debate. This is a topical question nowadays. Regarding this issue, some people think that problem is due to rise of the number of fast food centres while others point out that parents are responsible for lacking care on children's health. I strongly opine that food habits are completely transformed which need to be rectified immediately.
On one hand, different types of foreign dishes are spread throughout the world. As children are more interested in these foods, they choose them without knowing cons about them. Consequently, a developing country cannot deny the entry of foreign trades which affects economic condition of a nation. The ingredients used to prepare an item in the fast food outlets are of low quality but rich in fat contents and other elements which affect a child's health. Factors behind increasing demands of fast food centres include - low cost, instant availability, and finally, their distance from workplaces and our home. Fast food shops are located in every corner of the streets and people are being attracted by the variety of different tasty yet detrimental foods.
On the other hand, parents are more blamed due to this problem. There are many factors relevant to this. In this challenging world, both parents are willing to have a job to adopt posh lifestyle and also to show their status. Consequently, their vision on the child's food habit plunged to the low level and thus results in unhealthy food habits. Other reasons like hormonal imbalance or gene transfer from parents to children result in obesity. In this urban life, families prefer to late parties, restaurant foods etc. These new interests devastated healthy food habits.
Finally, in short consumption of fast foods should be reduced gradually simultaneously parents ought to pay more concentration on children habits and also force them to do exercises which keep body it.
(Approximately 300 words)
( by Kalyan Chakravarthy.)
Alternative Answer 3:
All around the world, the living standards are becoming higher and all more similar to western society. This changing in the everyday life brings also its contradictions and drawbacks, like the dramatic increasing in the number of overweight people. This problem is even more worrying if we consider the number of overweight children, which causes will be treated in this essay.
One of the reasons lots of people think is the cause of such a problem is the exponentially growing number of fast food outlets in developed countries. Fast foods originally were places where to eat a meal in few times, but now have become also the easiest and cheapest solution to have lunch all over the world. Consequently millions of families prefer to eat in fast foods where the food is appealing, thanks to the huge work on advertisements, and the cost is reasonable. Therefore, parents bring their children to the fast food outlets, where food isn't organic at all and the dimensions of a meal are completely over-proportioned.
However, parents are responsible for their children's diet and have to look after them in order to avoid they become overweight or even obese. Parents have to find time to prepare healthy food for children, for example, fresh vegetables or meat, that don't require more than half an hour of cooking. Moreover, parents have to free their children's diet from sweets, exchanging them with fresh fruit.
In conclusion, both fast foods and lack of parental control are causes of the increasing number of overweight children. Consequently, a change in familiar eating habits and in fast food outlets menus could prevent the risk of a future worldwide spread obesity problem.
(Approximately 280 words)
( by Luca Brotto.)
Alternative Answer 4:
I strongly believe that both components mentioned: the growing of fast food counters along with parent's attention deficit over their children health could be blamed for the causes of overweight young people.
In term of fast food counter, it should not be solely pointed as the contribution factor toward this matter. The increment of cow milk consumption in toddlers, in a change for breastfeeding milk, is also in charge guilty. Research conducted on this had proven that obesity is common among baby who were given cow milk instead of being breastfed. Fast food, on the other hand, contains high fats and unsaturated fatty acids, which are hazardous for wellbeing not only for children but also for grown up people. Whereas, parents' lack of attention to their children's eating habits must be taken seriously as well. They must be acknowledged the importance of introducing nutritious meals to children. Children under five years of age, for instance, is best given high protein contains food, which accounts for brain development and boosting their cognitive ability. And as for obesity, one must be alerted on its impact on children's health status for it had been recognised as one of the major factors resulting in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke.
In conclusion to this essay, parents' knowledge in a healthy lifestyle and early introduction of a healthy lifestyle to the children must be given more emphasis to help anticipate the increase numbers of overweight young people. In addition, a government along with the society must also hold full responsibility for the children's wellbeing in general. It might be a good idea to create a policy controlling fast food outlets opening in many cities.
(Approximately 270 words)
( by Nuke Amadeus.)
Sample Answer 5:
It is true that the problems of obesity children in advance countries have grown rapidly in the past recent years. A group of people believe that it is due to the increasing number of fast food restaurants in the areas, while another group thinks that it is due to the parents&rsquo mistakes, as they have given fewer attentions to the children these days. Although the growing numbers of fast food outlets do affect the problem, but I also agree that the lack attentions of the parents also give significant impact on the obesity cases.
On the one hand, it is undeniable that the significant growths of fast food outlets have truly affected the case of overweight problem in children. In most public places such as in theme parks or shopping malls, fast food outlets restaurant definitely exist, and they offer various kinds of things which attract the children. For instance, Mc Donald regularly gives additional bonus such as toys for the children&rsquos meal package. As more and more children are attracted to visit the fast food outlets, the existence of the outlets have grown rapidly nowadays and they have outnumbered the healthy ones. As a consequence of the increasing trend, the children have more option of outlets that they can select, and the probabilities of the children in consuming the foods are getting higher.
On the other hand, I do believe that parents are also responsible for the problem as well. In the modern days, the roles of wives have changed, as most of them have become career women these days. Since they are focused on their careers, they have less time in doing the household activities, which include preparing meals for their children. Instead of cooking healthy foods, they prefer to give meal allowance to their children, which is more practical and efficient. As a result, many of the children purchased their meal in fast food restaurants, and they have become overweight.
In conclusion, although the increasing populations of fast food restaurants have given some contribution to the problem of overweight children, I do believe that the lack attentions of parents also play a significant role as well.
(Approximately 359 words)
Sample Answer 6:
It is true that there is a growing trend in obesity children in industrialised nations in recent years. While this issue is being pointed at the widespread fast food restaurants, I would argue that parents should take full responsible for growing a healthy child.
To begin with, the expanding of convenient food stores may not be the cause of overweight children. Although some of the foods served in these restaurants may contain high saturated fat items, there are other factors that could also result in gaining weight as well. Firstly, if children consume an excessive amount of unhealthy snacks, sugary soda drinks, or prepackaged foods, they could also become obsessed. Secondly, even if the family did visit the fast food outlets for meals, parents could still substitute unhealthy items with a healthier menu, such as having French fries replaced with vegetables or salad.
In addition, parents certainly play a vital role in providing a healthy diet for their children. With the invention of the Internet, it is possible to obtain information of food ingredients, daily nutrient proportion needed in each food category and healthy recipes within minutes. Therefore, learning about how to prepare nutrient meals have never been easier. I believe supplying healthy snacks for children during school days and preparing a healthy balanced meal in the evening in routine could lead to a healthy body.
However, we must not be forgotten that ensuring children to have an adequate amount of physical exercise is also a critical contributor to their good health.
In conclusion, I believe that parents should be the ones who play a crucial role in upbringing their children in a healthy environment.
(Approximately 275 words)
(Written by Stacey.)
Sample Answer 7:
In today's world, fast food is one of the main problems of all countries. Fast food causes many health problems including the overweight issue. The proportion of eating fast food among young people is growing year by year and this is why the overweight issue is getting worse over time.
It is believed that increasing the number of fast food outlets such as McDonalds is creating the health problem. As these cafes and fast food outlets are convenient and near to our home or workplace, they have become part of our life in spite of their harmfulness. Children who eat from those fast food shops do not know what is good and what is bad for their health. Nowadays even parents are consuming these foods even after knowing they are not beneficial for our health. This problem does not only create the overweight, besides this, it can cause heart attack and other health problems.
'Busy parents cannot to take care of their children and can&rsquot maintain a balanced diet for them.' - is a common statement by the working class parents. Due to their lack of time and knowledge, children eat more and more fast food without any parental control and become fattier. Moreover, parents are grown-up enough to know what is healthy and what is unhealthy for their kids. That is why parents should help their children to make a right decision of eating food. Some people think that parents can always go to restaurants where hygienic dishes are served.
As far as I am concerned, parents are more blameworthy than fast food outlets. Parents want to do their best and make their children&rsquos lives more colourful and sound. And they should not work all day, and it would be better if parents can arrange more time for their kids. Also in my opinion parents should cook delicious foods at home, teach their kids about balance diet, ask them to avoid harmful foods and inspire them to do some exercise.
Children eat more junk food after watching YouTube stars
Children who watch videos of social media personalities eating junk food consume more calories themselves, research shows.
Those who see their favourite online stars eating unhealthy food in videos eat nearly an extra 100 calories – 26 per cent more – when choosing a snack.
Scientists found children who watched YouTube stars such as Zoella and Alfie Deyes, both of whom have millions of online followers, made less healthy food choices.
Experts say children may find it difficult to tell what is an advert and what is the stars’ normal behaviour, because online advertising is more subtle than on television.
The research comes as celebrities are calling for the Government to crack down on how much junk food advertising is seen by children.
One in five 10-11 year-old children are thought to be obese in the UK, and scientists say watching YouTube stars eating unhealthily is leading them to make fattening food choices
The research by the University of Liverpool was presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna this weekend, the BBC reports.
Anna Coates, a PhD research student and lead researcher on the study, said: ‘We know that if you show children a traditional drink advert, then their preference for that drink rises.
‘We wanted to test their reactions to this new type of celebrity, the social media star.
‘Now that we’ve shown that children are influenced by online stars, our next study will look at whether they understand that, in many cases, celebrities are being paid to promote products.’
How the research was carried out
In the study 176 children were split into groups and shown pictures of YouTube stars promoting either a healthy food, an unhealthy food, or something that wasn’t food.
The children were then offered snacks afterwards.
Those who had watched an unhealthy food promotion ate 448 calories – 26 per cent more than children in the other two groups who consumed 357.
Snacks offered included carrot sticks, grapes, chocolate buttons and jelly sweets, and children who see the social media personalities eat unhealthily choose unhealthy options for themselves, the scientists found.
One of the researchers, Dr Emma Boyland, said children think of the vloggers as ‘everyday people’ making normal choices in their videos.
Online advertising is more subtle
What is obesity?
Obesity is a condition in which someone is very overweight and has a lot of body fat.
Generally, people with a BMI of 30+ are considered obese. A BMI of between 18 and 24.9 is healthy.
In the UK an estimated 25 per cent of adults are obese, and 20 per cent of children aged 10-11.
Obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, heart disease and stroke, some types of cancer, and numerous other serious health problems.
It is generally caused by people eating more calories than they burn off – particularly if their food is high in fat or sugar.
The best way to prevent or tackle obesity is to eat a healthy, balanced diet and to do regular exercise – the NHS recommends between two-and-a-half and five hours per week.
Calculating a person’s BMI involves measuring their height and weight and considering their age and gender.
Work out yours or your child’s with the NHS BMI calculator.
She added that while television advertising is obviously separated from programming, it can be less distinguished in online videos.
‘On TV there are more cues as to when it’s advertising,’ she said. ‘There’s an advert break, there’s a jingle – whereas digitally it’s a lot more embedded in the rest of the content.’
Tens of thousands are obese
The findings come just a day after it was revealed that more than a third of primary school leavers – about 170,000 – are overweight.
NHS figures showed yesterday that more than 22,000 children who finished primary school last year were obese.
One in five 10-11 year-old children are thought to be obese in the UK, and the condition increases their risk of serious illness and costs the NHS billions of pounds a year.
In response to the growing crisis celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is running his #AdEnough campaign calling on the Government to ban junk food advertising on TV before 9pm.
Children are ‘bombarded’ with adverts
Oliver says children are ‘bombarded’ with adverts for foods that are high in sugar and fat, and that there should be ‘proper controls’ for what children see.
Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has also proposed banning junk food adverts on London’s transport network, including at bus stops and underground stations.
Mr Khan said: ‘I’m determined to do all I can to tackle this issue with the powers I have and help Londoners make healthy food choices for themselves and their families.’
At the obesity conference Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health added: ‘It’s vital that children are protected from the marketing of junk food, not only on TV but also online where they are increasingly spending time.’
Accessibility Is Another Barrier
Accessibility to supermarkets that stock healthy foods can be another barrier to low-income populations eating healthy foods. For example, higher-income neighborhoods can have as many as twice the number of grocery stores as low-income ones, notes the National Housing Institute. Low-income families, then, turn to places like gas stations and convenience stores to purchase food, and these tend to stock foods high in saturated fat, sodium or sugar, and low in essential nutrients. In fact, low-income populations tend to consume less fiber, vitamin C, folate and beta-carotene, according to a 2008 article published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition."
Is junk food to blame for the obesity epidemic?
Fast food, soft drinks and candy are often painted as the driving forces behind America's obesity epidemic, but new research suggests there's more to it than that.
In fact, according to the study from the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, junk food does not appear to be a leading cause of obesity in the United States. Rather, the researchers suggest that the blame lies with Americans' overall eating habits -- particularly the amount of food consumed.
But the researchers emphasize that the findings do not give people a free pass to indulge in junk food.
"If you over-eat junk foods, they are going to make you fat," study author David Just, PhD, co-director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, told CBS News. "It's just that it doesn't look like that it's those foods that are making people fat generally. It's something else. It's their broader diet or it's their exercise regimen."
Just worked with lab co-director Brian Wansink, PhD, to review the 2007-2008 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Household and Nutrition Examination Survey -- a nationally representative sample of approximately 5,000 adults in the U.S.
The participants were asked to recall their food intake within the last 24-hour period on two separate occasions. Height and weight were also collected to calculate body mass index (BMI).
The Cornell team's analysis, published in the journal Obesity Science & Practice, showed something surprising: there was no significant difference in junk food intake between overweight and healthy individuals. In fact, consumption of soda, candy and fast food was not linked to BMI for 95 percent of the population. The exception came with those on the extreme ends of the BMI spectrum: the chronically underweight and the morbidly obese.
While the researchers emphasized that eating junk food is still certainly unhealthy, they concluded that the overwhelming majority of weight problems are not caused by consumption of soda, candy and fast food alone. Rather the problem is that many Americans are just eating too much and not exercising enough.
For example, the researchers note that the average daily calories consumed in the U.S. in the 1970's, before the obesity epidemic took off, was 2,039 -- compared to the average of 2,544 consumed circa 2010.
The results, the researchers say, have big implications for how we think about food and weight gain.
"If you're thinking about this as a dieter, more than likely if all you're doing is cutting out junk foods it's not going to have much of an impact," Just said. "More importantly, if you're thinking about this in terms of food policy and how to encourage people to have healthier diets and be a healthy weight, targeting narrowly these foods probably isn't going to do it. It's more complicated than that. It's our entire diet."
But experts caution that the study should not be interpreted to mean that eating junk food is not harmful to weight.
"I don't think we can say that fast food, candy and soda are completely unrelated to body weight," Alissa Rumsey, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told CBS News. "These items are generally very high in calories and very low in nutrients. They are also heavily processed, and contain a lot of added fat and sugar."
Rumsey also pointed out that junk food is low in protein and fiber, doing little to keep you full and making it easy to over-consume calories.
"I find that when people cut down on these foods, and add whole, real foods like fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fat, they lower their calorie consumption naturally without feeling hungry or deprived," she said. "While it is OK to treat yourself once in awhile, these types of junk foods should not be part of your daily diet."
This week, the Food and Brand Lab also released another study looking at the connection between what's eaten for breakfast and a healthy weight. After surveying almost 150 healthy-weight people, the researchers found that the most common breakfast items they consumed were fruits, dairy, cold cereal/granola, bread, eggs, hot cereal and coffee.
Though egg consumption was higher than expected, the researchers said that much can be learned from the breakfast habits of healthy-weight people.
"One important take away from this study is that a very high rate of slim people actually eat breakfast instead of skipping, which is consistent with previous research on the importance of breakfast," lead author Anna-Leena Vuorinen said in a statement. "But what stands out is that they not only ate breakfast, but that they ate healthful foods like fruits and vegetables."
Cornell Univeristy, Food and Brand Lab
Eating Junk Food
Just consider the term "junk food." Junk refers to trash, or something you wouldn't really want, while food is an essential part of our existence. No one wants to eat garbage, but that's exactly what eating junk food implies. On the outside, junk food doesn't look like trash. It includes foods that many enjoy — from bags of chips to chocolate and even chicken nuggets. But they're considered bad for you because, more often than not, these processed foods offer primarily empty calories, using refined foods or cooking methods that minimize their nutritional value.
Household food purchases are important to examine because they may influence dietary intake quality, and are important potential intervention targets. In the present study, the overall nutritional quality of foods and beverages purchased was significantly lower among lower income households compared with higher income households. This remained significant with adjustment for education level, a strong correlate of both household income and diet quality. The specific food purchase categories that were associated with income were vegetables and dairy (HEI subscores) and frozen desserts (NDS-R food category). Vegetable purchases coded into the HEI subcategories were significantly positively associated with higher income-to-poverty ratio, and were marginally associated with purchases measured by NDS-R food categories coding. Dairy purchases, captured by the HEI subcategories, and frozen desserts, captured by the NDS-R food categories, significantly differed by income-to-poverty ratio.
The results of the present study are consistent with existing data regarding the association between income level and the nutritional quality of foods and beverages purchased [6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14]. Food purchase data show that lower-income households purchase less healthful foods overall, fewer fruits and vegetables and more sugary beverages compared to households with higher income [6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14]. The most recent comprehensive analysis of food purchase patterns from a nationally representative sample of 4826 US households showed that food purchase patterns among households of all income levels are lower in dietary quality than recommended . However, households that were participating in the federal food assistance program (called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) purchased lower quality foods compared to households of comparable income that were not participating, and households with higher income. Overall Healthy Eating Index scores, fruits, vegetables and whole grains were significantly lower and empty calories significantly higher, among low-income households enrolled in SNAP compared with low-income households not enrolled in SNAP and higher income households . In another study, an analysis of 24,879 household food purchase receipts showed that food purchases by lower-income households were less healthful and included fewer fruits and vegetables than recommended, according to a standardized nutrient profile . In another study of 90 households with children, compared with higher income households, lower income households spent fewer dollars on fruits and vegetables and sweets and snacks, but spent a larger proportion of beverage dollars on sugary beverages . A study of 1003 households that used face to face interviews found that lower income households reported purchasing fewer fruits, vegetables and fiber, and more sugary foods, compared with higher income households [9, 10]. In a study that used in-store shoppers’ purchase data, results showed that lower-income household purchases were lower in dietary quality per 1000 kcals purchased compared with higher income households’ food purchases .
These findings further establish the link between income and the quality of the foods and beverages purchased by households. If diet quality is lower among lower-income groups, then food purchases may be a key intervention target. The present study indicates that lower income households are less likely to purchase recommended healthful foods such as vegetables, and spend a larger proportion of their grocery money on less healthful foods such as frozen desserts. Food assistance programs could help promote healthier food purchases through specific program guidelines, such as incentivizing the purchase of fruits and vegetables, or restricting the purchase of sugar-sweetened beverages or sweet baked goods [19, 22]. These strategies have been shown to be effective in changing low-income households’ food purchases in community-based randomized trials [18, 19, 22].
The present study was limited in its ability to separately examine income and education in relationship to food purchasing behavior. Income and education are closely intertwined, and may have independent or synergistic effects on food purchasing behaviors. It is noteworthy that many of the observed associations between income and food purchasing variables were substantially attenuated when adjusting for other socioeconomic variables such as education and race. The independent effects of education and income on food purchases warrants closer study, since intervention strategies may be differentially effective, depending on the answers to these questions.
The use of receipts to measure household food purchases has methodological limitations, including lack of information about the completeness of the receipts to represent all food purchases during the time interval covered [5, 7, 23]. No objective measure exists of the true total number of receipts that participants should turn in to the research staff. Thus, it is not known whether participants turned in 100, 50% or some other portion of their total food purchase receipts. It is possible that participants may have omitted receipts for small purchases such as a single drink or candy item [5, 7]. By contrast, a strength of the receipt data is its potentially lower reactivity than self-report assessments. It is an objective measure of food purchases, does not rely on participant memory, and may be less affected by social desirability responding. The enrolled sample was comprised of volunteers, and this could affect the generalizability of the results reported here.
Lower quality food purchasing among lower-income households may be due to higher food prices for higher quality foods [3, 21,22,23,24,25]. Even within lower-income households, higher quality food purchases are associated with spending more money on those particular food categories [3, 24]. Household configuration and the presence and number of children, and employment-related variables, including number of jobs and hours worked, may also influence the quality of foods and beverages purchased. Future research should examine the influence of these variables on the quality of household food and beverage purchases using large cohorts that will enable adequately powered analysis of these demographic and household variables.