That poverty affects the development of children isn’t a mystery to anyone who cares to learn, but a team of researchers at the University of Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedicine have determined that these differences run deeper than most people might think, beginning with what a child eats, and how the differences between what rich and poor children eat begins long before the baby can even crawl.
The study found considerable differences in the solid foods parents from various economic backgrounds fed to their children; in specific, diets higher in sugar and fat were associated with less educated mothers and with poorer households.
Meanwhile, diets that followed infant feeding guidelines were linked to higher education, and bigger bank accounts.
So the rich are eating better than the poor are. We knew that; but the study just serves to highlight just how pervasive this problem is, and how income inequality is hammering our future.
The lead author for the study, Xiaozhong Wen, said that the “differences in dietary habits start very early.” Using data from the Infant Feeding Practices study, the team were able to focus on what infants ate over the course of a week at both 6- and 12-months old. What they found was that, in many cases, infants were fed food ranging from candy, ice cream, soda, and french fries. They divided the food into 18 different food types, and into four distinct categories, two of which were ideal for infant consumption — the “formula” and “infant guideline solids” — and two that are not ideal for adult consumption — “high/sugar/fat/protein” and “high/regular cereal.”
According to the author, “The extent to which lower socioeconomic classes (i.e., low household income, low maternal education) are associated with unhealthy infant dietary patterns is substantial.”
The immediate dangers are the physical impacts: stunted growth and early weight gain. Infants with larger weight increases were the ones who consumed more sugar and fat, and diary foods, especially before the age of two. Long term damages include food choice later in life, health, and perhaps even epigenetic changes brought about by a poor diet and poor environment; these changes can impact everything from concentration to behavior.
The Washington Post has their own ideas about what’s happening, and they blame a “number of factors” that range from lower education levels being tied to poorer nutritional awareness and the price — a bag of fries is cheaper than a bag of carrots, but not by much anymore.
Ultimately, it’s just one more way that the growing income inequality gap is not only exposing itself, but reinforcing itself — these health issues cause problems later, which are often times expensive to treat, ensuring that people stay in poverty as a result of choices they themselves never really had any control over.