Want to know about the difficulties faced by some people in eating healthily?  Then read the attached report on Food Practices among Mothers of Young Children by Dr Jeni Harden, Dr Adele Dickson, Ms Naomi Mason

Food practices among mothers of young children – a preliminary report

This report sought to develop an understanding of food practices in socio-economically disadvantaged families.  There is a complex interplay between social constraints and individual lives which shapes food practices in the home.  This study identified multiple, interlinking social factors which shape parents’ food practices and so which shape young children’s eating behaviour.  At a societal level, effective policy and practice should therefore seek to address the wider contexts within which food practices are experienced by those living near to or below the poverty line.  It is recognised that this is both a very long term goal and one that has proved challenging for successive governments therefore more focussed recommendations can also be offered from the main findings.

Parents have knowledge of healthy eating practices, but are restricted by their financial and social circumstances

All the mothers in the study had a sound knowledge of what food they ‘should’ be providing for their children.  The limitations to practising this ideal were both financial and social.  To address the issue of cost and time, more advice on preparing quick meals on a budget could be offered.

Children are not the passive recipients of food

The mothers described ways in which children, from a very young age, were are able to influence and sometimes dictate what food they were eating.  Policy relating to healthy eating needs to recognise the role that children play, both in terms of children’s rights within the family, but also as part of the challenges faced by parents.  More support around parenting strategies in relation to food may prove useful to parents.  This could be addressed in the context of pre-school provision, working with both parents and children together.

Food practices are transmitted through generations

Most of the mothers described the ways in which their own childhood experiences with food had shaped their own practices as parents.  However this awareness of the links to their own past, did not seem to alert them to the potential difficulties in maintaining a ‘do as I say not as I do’ practice in relation to food.  Advice and services could be targeted to parents on the issue of their own diet in relation to the longer term implications for themselves and for their children.

The significance of age

There were little differences found in the study between the younger mums and the older mums.  Most of the issues were shared across both groups and the age of the mother did not appear to be significant in shaping food practices.