Food and Behaviour Research

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Children's understanding of family financial resources and their impact on eating healthily.

Fairbrother H, Curtis P, Goyder E. (2012) Health Soc Care Community.  20(5) 528-36 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

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Socioeconomic inequalities in childhood are linked to childhood and adult health inequalities. They are particularly closely associated with inequalities in nutritional and consequently health status.

Recent research links this to the high cost of nutrient-rich and low cost of nutrient-poor foods and explores how parents negotiate food purchase on a limited budget. However, we know little of children's perspectives on the material and social realities of their lives and their involvement in health-relevant behaviour. This contrasts with a growing body of research which emphasises children's active role in making sense of and participating in health practices while growing up and their potential to act in continuity with and as agents of change in family health cultures.

This paper explores children's understanding of family finances and how they perceive this to relate to eating healthily. It draws upon data from a qualitative study of 53 children aged 9-10 from two socioeconomically contrasting schools in the North of England during 2010 and 2011. Data were generated in friendship group interviews and debates at school and individual interviews in the home, and analysed thematically.

Children incorporated a variety of media information into their understandings and sought explanations from their personal experience. They had sophisticated ideas about the interrelationships between diet, cost and health and were acutely aware of how family finances influenced food purchase. Children proposed different strategies to facilitate eating healthily on a budget, but prioritised state and corporate responsibility in ensuring that eating healthily is affordable. This contrasts with current health-related policy, which does not address cost as a potential barrier to eating healthily in the home. Children also consistently conflated healthy eating with eating fruit and vegetables, highlighting a need to reinforce other important nutritional messages.