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Teenagers’ diets are low priority for poorer families

Research among parents in disadvantaged parts of Eastern Scotland reveals that dietary issues are considered less important than other risks facing their teenagers.

In a paper published in Social Science & Medicine this month by Dr Wendy Wills at the University of Hertfordshire and a team at the University of Edinburgh, the researchers describe how 34 parents/main food providers of teenagers aged 13-14 years (half of whom were overweight/obese) felt that preoccupations about being overweight and obsessions with weight loss were potentially more problematic to this group than their actual size and body shape.

The paper states: “The majority of parents said they were much more likely to emphasise to their child that weight should not be a worry or a concern for them; that they were fine as they were; that everybody was different and, frequently, to make disparaging references to their teenager’s thinner peers as ‘stick insects’ (a much used phrase).”

The researchers also found that young teenagers were considered by their parents as being capable of making their own decisions about what to eat and, for many of these low income parents, an important consideration was that food available to teenagers within and outside the home was eaten, with less concern about the nature of the foods actually consumed.

The article states: “There was, for instance, little talk of insisting that children eat disliked foodstuffs even if, as was particularly the case with vegetables and sometimes fruit, these were also regarded by the majority of our adult sample as being ‘good for them’.”

Dr Wills commented: “We have presented qualitative data about families living in social disadvantage, but greater understanding is still needed about the everyday experiences of feeding families in other social groupings, to illuminate differences and commonalities in the population as a whole.”

With this in mind, the researchers are due to embark on a further study next month (funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)) which will compare these results with a sample of middle-class families.

Helene Murphy | alfa
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