Researcher: Family dynamics explain why poor Americans eat less healthily

Researchers have questioned whether food deserts—areas with a lack of healthy food options—are to blame for poor eating habits in American children in poor neighborhoods.

According to Priya Fielding-Singh, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Stanford University, the answer is much more personal than that.

Low-income parents may not be able to afford a new iPad for their child, but they can buy them a $1 bag of potato chips or a soda. With that purchase, they get the rare chance to say “yes” to their kid, Fielding-Singh wrote in an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times.

“Honoring requests for junk food allowed poor parents to show their children that they loved them, heard them and could meet their needs,” wrote Fielding-Singh, who has interviewed and spent time with 73 California families observing their eating habits. “As one low-income single mother told me: ‘They want it, they'll get it. One day they'll know. They'll know I love them, and that's all that matters.’”

In wealthier families, it’s easier for parents to turn down junk food requests because they can meet so many other material needs, Fielding-Singh found. In her interviews, 96 percent of high-income families said at least one parent routinely denied requests for unhealthy food. Only 13 percent of low-income families were similarly restrictive.

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