‘Poverty, not ignorance’ prevents healthy eating

Jamie Oliver has been criticised for his comments towards those in poverty. Picture: Getty
Jamie Oliver has been criticised for his comments towards those in poverty. Picture: Getty
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SCOTTISH mothers have a sound knowledge of healthy eating practices, but are restricted in their choices by their financial and social circumstances, experts at the Scottish School of Public Health Research (SSPHR) have warned.

The comments, published in a research paper into feeding children on a low income, come just days after TV chef Jamie Oliver angered food poverty groups when he suggested that poorer families do not know how to feed themselves properly and instead choose expensive options such as ready meals.

The SSPHR report, which was compiled by social science and health lecturer Jeni Harden from Edinburgh University, found that families knew that their children should eat healthy food, but admitted that financial and social problems in their lives often meant that food was not always seen as a priority.

They also said that they did not have the income to encourage their children to try a wide range of different foods – as the risk of a “fussy eater” turning down a new meal, which would then have to be replaced by a second offering, would stretch their budget too far.

“The challenge of living on restricted budgets was frequently mentioned as influencing food practices,” said the report.

“While the challenges of providing for a family on a low income are acknowledged, the focus of interventions is often on what children eat, with attention directed towards improving parents’ knowledge and skills. This provides a limited understanding of parents’ food practices, the decisions, choices and routines relating to food, and isolates parenting from the vast network of influences which shape those practices.”

Last week, celebrity chef Oliver insisted that UK families living on low incomes should follow the example of communities in France and Spain, where people who are financially challenged can prepare a nutritious meal for just a few pence. Oliver, who previously fronted an advertising campaign for supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, insisted that ready meals were “the root of the problem” and claimed that Britain’s poorest families choose “the most expensive way to hydrate and feed their families”.

He came under fire on social media after the interview was published in the Radio Times, with an #askjamieoliver hashtag trending on Twitter, focusing on comments mocking the chef’s preference for pricey ingredients.

“I’ve searched my local food bank and can’t find pine nuts and pancetta. What do I do?” asked Twitter user @adamwaddingham.

For the SSPHR report, thirteen mothers living in the East of Scotland – most of whom lived on income from benefits or part-time work – were interviewed, initially in 2010. Nine were re-interviewed three years later.

One 21-year-old mother of two said: “He’s controlling everything he eats… I give in to him, like if he says ‘can I get a sweet instead of’, I don’t give him a banana because he wouldn’t eat it, so there’s no point giving him it.”

Paul Crayston, spokesman for Money Advice Trust Scotland, said the organisation had been contacted by people who had so little money for food that they had been forced to cook multiple meals in the same oven and eat them cold later in the week in a bid to save cash on energy bills.

“People will go to quite extreme lengths to cut back on their spending, and often they are forced to cut back on food,” he said.