A poor diet?

Research from the Food Standards Agency was reported as showing that the poor do not have worse diets than the rest of the population. I am all for truths that fly in the face of “common sense” but I am finding this quite hard to swallow.

As soon as you look at the specifics, this whole argument starts to fall apart for me.

The Food Standards Agency found that contrary to popular belief, nutrition, access to food and cooking skills are not much different in poorer families.

  • Nutrition. Given that so much of nutritional science is founded on guesswork and can often barely be distinguished from the Gillian McKeith schools of science, I’m not going to do this one to death, except to say that the points that they notice any difference in – such as consumption of fruit and vegetables – are the very things the nutritionists keep saying are important for our health
  • Cooking skills?” Why would anyone asume that poor people are less able to cook. Well, it seems that the survey does suggest that the British poor are indeed too stupid to know how to eat food, apparently unlike poor people in the rest of the world.

    Men and women with a lower level of educational achievement tended to have a ‘less healthy’ diet than men and women with more education. Men and women with less education ate fewer vegetables and more chips, fried and roast potatoes. Less educated women also consumed less fruit and fruit juice.

    If educational level has any correlation with income (as we are told by other parts of government), doesn’t this suggest that the poor do have a worse diet? So it might be poverty rather than lack of education that leads to the duff feeding?

  • Access to food? ” What on earth does that mean? It appears from the FSA website that it means where we shop and how we get it home.

    About 80% of this group did their main shopping at a large supermarket. About 50% had access to a private car for shopping

    Hmm – car? Not markedly poor then, you would think.

But then:

Mean weekly spending on food and drink (including eating out, but excluding alcoholic drinks) was just under £30 for one-adult households, just over £50 for households containing two or more adults, £55–£65 for households with one adult and one or more children, and £80–£90 for households with two or more adults and one or more children.

(You have feel particularly sorry for the adults in a 2 or more adult household, scraping by on £25 or less per person.)

Where are these people shopping? Because I would get a car if it meant I could feed myself adequately on this sort of money. Then again, if I was one of these people, I’d give up the car and spend the savings on eating something that tasted like food.

The general thrust of the argument is that the diet of the poor is more or less the same as the general population.

For many foods, the types and quantities eaten by people on low income appeared similar to those of the general population. Where differences did exist, they were often consistent across different age groups.

I couldn’t find enough detail about the sampling, nor can’t summon the will to investigate this any further but-

Income doesn’t follow a simple bell-shaped curve, as far as I can see. Especially as we become ever more polarised in terms of wealth and income. Hence, the majority of the population fall into relatively low income groups, A tiny percentage of the population are very wealthy. Below the richest 10 percent of the population, there will be much less variation in income between the “poorest,” the averagely poor and the averagely well-off.

(In additition, the averagely less poor have generally got higher costs for housing, etc, so probably have not much more spare money to spend on food.)

So. immediately, one would expect the numerical dominance of the relatively poor to imply that the diet of the relatively poor is the average diet. At an average food spend of under £30 a week for everyone, this would otherwise mean that the poor had even more laughably small sums to spend.

Let’s just consider a loaf of bread. A deep-frozen and thawed mass-manufactured sliced loaf can be bought for 30p or less. A loaf made with real wholemeal flour and yeast by a specialist baker could cost 5 times that.

Spread? Real butter probably costs about £1 for 250g, but you can buy a huge 2.5 kilo tub of axle-grease flavoured margarine for less than that. Butter is not supposed to be good for us, despite having been eaten for thousands of years. Butter = saturated fat. But wait, what sort of fat is in the cheap crap? Oh yes, transfatty acids, plus any other chemical extras needed to turn oil into a semi-spreadable solid. (Finally supposed to be worse for you, to help account for the fact that people eating emulsified polyunsaturated lardalike spreads for 30 years wasn’t actually reducing heart disease.) But according to the standards apparently underpinning this survey, both spreads would count as being high-fat and hence equally “bad” for you, across the board from the poor to the rich

So, even a piece of bread and butter could turn out to cost about 6 times as much for the edible version. If you want to get some nutritional content beyond providing energy from your bread and butter, things like cheese or salad vegetables will dramatically mount up the cost, especially if you want them to taste of anything.

The moderately well-off person will just pay the money and eat what they choose. The poor person will have little choice. If they can eat a dozen pieces of bread and marge for the cost of the better off person’s salad sandwich, that’s what they’ll eat.

And they will probably eat more of this cheap food because it isn’t even satisfying. It leaves you full but your body is aware it’s still hungry for nutrients. So, it keeps nagging at you that you are still hungry and you just eat more. Hence the supposedly high level of obesity. Toutatis, if it is indeed possible to become obese for under £30 a week, what is this talk of a world food shortage?

How they picked the Sample

How were people chosen?
The aim was to identify approximately the bottom 15% of the population in terms of material deprivation. A doorstep questionnaire was developed that helped measure material deprivation.
Collecting the information
Key stages consisted of:
– a face-to-face interview and self-completed questionnaire
– four 24-hour recalls of diet on random days (including at least one weekend day) within a 10-day period
– physical measurements, indicating height, weight and blood pressure
– a blood sample was requested for those aged eight years old and over, to measure indicators of nutritional status.

Argh. Don’t get me started.
“Material deprivation” identified on the doorstep? How on earth did they manage that, especially given that not having a car wasn’t materially deprived enough?
Face to face interviews and 24-hour recalls of diet? This comes up against the facts that people neither really know what they are consuming nor will tell the truth about it, especially to people who seem to have the quasi-medical aura that allows them to take measurements and blood samples.

And as a final sceptically ranting aside:

91% of women reported they could cook a meal from basic ingredients without help; for men this was 64%.

What are “basic ingredients”? Meat, vegetables, oils, grains? Does the addition of a cook-in sauce, a tin of beans and some frozen chips still mean a meal is cooked from basic ingredients if it has some packaged mince?

By a serendipitous coincidence, in this week’s Guardian Guide section, Charlie Brooker wrote about how he thought the Fray Bentos steak and ale pie “represented grown-up cooking” when he was student.

Except it wasn’t. Having wolfed down better fresher meals since then, I now realise that what I was eating tasted like piping-hot dog-food by comparison.

My point is that the relatively poor are basically eating hot dog food. This sort of survey seems to say that it doesn’t really matter because we are basically all chowing down on Pedigree chum anyway.[tags]bad science, bad statistics, diet, diets, food, obesity, poverty, research, uk, society, science[/tags]

2 thoughts on “A poor diet?

  1. Yes, apparently since they don’t count in the mysterious 5. It can’t be because tubers don’t count, or things that are starchy don’t count, as there are plenty of others that do.

    Maybe it’s just that things you can make chips with don’t count. (I guess they never thought of manioc) For some reason, chips are the true work of the devil to nutritionists. I see roast potatoes are also the devil’s archangels from the tone of the FSA.

    Odd that, under rationing, people ate chips cooked in lard and were, at the same time, supposedly the healthiest ever. 🙂

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