Children follow healthier diets when access to nutritious meals is easy, study reveals
31 May 2022 --- A study conducted in Texas, US, measured dietary consumption patterns among low-income families. By making nutritious meals more accessible to families, there was a significant increase in children's healthy consumption patterns.
Published in Jama Network, the study reveals that child diets improved when parents and caregivers were given more comprehensive resources and increased access to healthy food. Sixty-eight children from low-income households, most of them earning below the federal poverty level, participated in the experiment.
The families were provided with ten-pound boxes of groceries and gift cards worth US$10 at an additional grocery store. The aim was to measure dietary behaviors with consumption. The boxes contained two fruit items, including whole fruits and 100% fruit juice. It also included five starchy, orange and green vegetables, beans and legumes and other vegetables.
Dietary changes spotted
The consumption patterns were measured on a Span Healthy Eating Index (SHEI). The study also included measurements of items not included in the package, such as yogurt, yogurt drinks and plain milk. It also measured the consumption of unhealthy food and snacks, such as french fries, chips, crackers, candy and snack bars.
Half of the families belonged to a control group. They were given a voucher of US$80 after the experiment, with no changes in the diet occurring during the four weeks when the study took place.
As a result, the children in the intervention group showed an improved diet compared to those in the control group. The caregivers’ dietary habits were also measured but showed no significant changes in any groups.
Two hundred four families were contacted for participation, whereas only 68 participated in the study. On some occasions, it was impossible to get home delivery which caused inconvenience. The families would need to go to a clinic to pick up the resources, creating difficulty for the families to access the experiment due to high opportunity costs.
Health effects of scarcity
Additionally, the study showed a high level of food insecurity. Among the participants, 60% reported experiencing fear of running out of food, and half of the families did run out and experienced food scarcity in the last 12 months.
Linkages between food insecurity and diabetes have been found, as other adverse health effects. Food insecurity often leads to a less nutritional diet and unhealthy food options.
Previously, families have reported providing supplements to their children due to rising food prices, especially of fruits and vegetables. It is no longer affordable for many to feed children with the nutrition they need from those sources.
Another study published earlier in Public Health Nutrition showed that the pandemic led to economic distress and shortages. The lack of food in the stores brought on psychological stress, and having more people at home due to lockdowns accelerated this stress and anxiety. It resulted in people eating less than required, negatively affecting their nutritional intake.
Edited by Beatrice Wihlander
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