How Poor Parents Sabotage Their Kids’ Health

Junk food may come cheap, but the cost of your child’s health is steep.

When I was over at a parent friend’s place for a BBQ recently, our conversation inevitably turned to his 3 year-old son’s eating habits.

“He usually likes chips, ham and cheese sandwiches, sausages and pizza,” my friend explained, which was followed by a horrified look on my face.

“Does he like anything healthy?” I asked.

“He doesn’t mind watermelon,” my friend shrugged, after thinking about it for a while.

Not really the answer I was hoping for. I know kids are picky when it comes to food, but in a day and age where we are exposed to countless news programs, documentaries, and magazine articles constantly telling us how important a nutritious diet is – especially for children – I expected my friend would make a bigger effort to feed his kid vegetables every now and then.

In fact, I do have another friend, a successful doctor, who would never buy pizza for her daughter. I’ve seen her 4 year-old eat celery, carrots, and even broccoli with the same enthusiasm most of us would apply to downing a piece of chocolate. The difference between my two parent friends, besides their kids’ wildly different eating habits? Their weekly budget for groceries.

So does economic status play a factor in health status? According to research, absolutely.

A Harvard study recently put a price tag on a healthy diet, concluding that eating the recommended amount of vegetables, fruits, fish and nuts will set you back by an extra $550 per person, per year. For a family of four, that’s a whopping $2200 each year. While this alone serves as an explanation as to why low-income families tend to eat more junk food, there’s actually another quite significant reason.

What you put in your kids' lunchboxes, matters. (Image via ourpaleolife.com)

What you put in your kids’ lunchboxes, matters. (Image via ourpaleolife.com)

A new study published in the Social Science & Medicine journal, found high-income parents have more money to continue to re-purchase healthy foods their children’s discerning tastebuds may initially reject, while low-income parents are more likely to exclusively buy foods their children are guaranteed to like,  in order to avoid food waste.

It makes sense. When your budget doesn’t allow for ‘backup food’ in case your toddler throws a tantrum at the sight of green beans, you better make sure you only buy food they will eat. However, the problem with this approach, is that the children in this scenario pay the ultimate price for their parents’ savvy shopping; their health.

What you feed your child will affect their eating habits for the rest of their lives. So while it may be slightly cheaper to opt for calorie-dense processed foods in the short term, is it really worth it in the long run? The answer has to be no, or we’ll end up with an increasing number of obese children who are at risk of developing serious illnesses, just like the three year-old Texan girl who developed type two diabetes as a consequence of obesity.

If your excuse for feeding your child unhealthy food is the fact they refuse to eat anything else, then I’m sorry not sorry to tell you it’s your own fault for not introducing your child to vegetables earlier. According to the same study mentioned earlier, a child will refuse unknown food eight to 15 times before eating it. But with a bit of persistence, even the biggest broccoli hater will – eventually – give in.

I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m aware that getting kids to eat any food at all can be hard sometimes. But considering that child obesity has doubled in the past 20 years with no sign of slowing down, simply choosing the easy way with affordable, mass-produced, empty-calorie food is no longer acceptable – for us, and definitely not for our children.

Comment: Do you find it expensive buying healthy foods for your family?