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A critical analysis of UK public health policies in relation to diet and nutrition in low-income households.

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>04/2006
<mark>Journal</mark>Maternal and Child Nutrition
Issue number2
Number of pages12
Pages (from-to)67-78
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Diet and nutrition, particularly among low-income groups, is a key public health concern in the UK. Low levels of fruit and vegetable consumption, and obesity, especially among children, have potentially severe consequences for the future health of the nation. From a public health perspective, the UK government's role is to help poorer families make informed choices within healthy frameworks for living. However, the question is – to what extent are such policies in accordance with lay experiences of managing diet and nutrition on a low-income? This paper critically examines contemporary public health policies aimed at improving diet and nutrition, identifying the underlying theories about the influences on healthy eating in poor families, and exploring the extent to which these assumptions are based on experiential accounts. It draws on two qualitative systematic reviews – one prioritizing low-income mothers’ accounts of ‘managing’ in poverty; and the other focusing on children's perspectives. The paper finds some common ground between policies and lay experiences, but also key divergencies. Arguably, the emphasis of public health policy on individual behaviour, coupled with an ethos of empowered consumerism, underplays material limitations on ‘healthy eating’ for low-income mothers and children. Health policies fail to take into account the full impact of structural influences on food choices, or recognize the social and emotional factors that influence diet and nutrition. In conclusion, it is argued that while health promotion campaigns to improve low-income families’ diets do have advantages, these are insufficient to outweigh the negative effects of poverty on nutrition.