Researchers spend a lot of time trying to understand what social factors influence dietary choices. Many have concluded that the two primary social issues at play are socioeconomic status and education level. According to the European Union Information Council (EUFIC), individuals with low incomes and little education tend to have unhealthy dietary lifestyles. When purchasing food, people who make less money tend to prioritize low prices and familiarity over health value.
Food deserts are common in poorer neighborhoods. The USDA defines food deserts as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.” A lack of healthy choices leads many individuals to buy unhealthy, nutrient-poor, processed foods from local convenience stores and fast food restaurants.
People who’ve received little education are also prone to making unhealthy dietary decisions due to lack of knowledge about nutrition. Reports from State of Obesity estimate that in recent years nearly 33 percent of American high school dropouts were obese, compared to only 21.5 percent of college graduates.
Lowering the prices on healthy food may help improve peoples’ dietary choices. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, healthy diets cost $1.50 more per day than unhealthy diets. One study showed price reductions on low fat foods resulting in consumers purchasing more of them.
Insurers like Humana and local Blue Cross Blue Shield providers are trying to reduce poor dietary choices by offering customers coupons and discounts on healthy food items. Recipients of these coupons were shown to purchase 4.5 percent more healthy food products than they had before.
Another proposed solution is increased funding for nutrition education. SNAP-Ed programs from the USDA have demonstrated a positive correlation between nutrition education and good dietary choices. According to one report, children and seniors who received nutrition education made positive dietary choices, such as choosing low-fat milk and increasing their consumption of fruits and vegetables.
– Shannon Warren