Healthy food for people at risk of poverty

May 1, 2012

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The European Food Information Council, Brussels, Belgium

“Researchers have found a direct link between income and diet quality: as socio-economic status decreases, diets become increasingly unbalanced. One of the reasons for this is that people with low incomes often cannot afford enough nutri-tious food. Lower level of education may also explain why dietary habits are unsatisfactory among this group. Education influences the level of knowledge a person has about nutrition, which in turn affects food habits like eating fruit and vegetable. In addition, there is a direct link between poor nutrition and risk of obesity and obesity-related problems such as diabetes and cardio-vascular disease. Low-quality diets are also associated with micronutrient deficiencies (1). In Europe, 81 million people are at risk of poverty. The increased disease risk associated with poor nutrition results in a significant healthcare and welfare burden for society, in addition to the suffering endured by individuals.

Eurostat data from 2010 indicate that women and the elderly are more likely to be at risk of poverty than the general population (2). Researchers intend to take this further by using both geographical and social criteria to clarify which are the major groups of concern in Europe. Once these groups have been identified, the primary questions are: What do they eat? Is their major problem being overweight or obese, or are these groups unhealthy because of inadequate intakes of micronutrients? Research method includes reviewing scientific literature; distributing questionnaires about dietary habits; taking measurements, such as weight, height and waist circumference; and assessing nutritional and health status.

In order to address the issue of poor nutrition in populations at risk of poverty and thereby prevent related problems, the new European Commission-funded project CHANCE (“Low cost technologies and traditional ingredients for the production of affordable, nutritionally correct foods improving health in population groups at risk of poverty”) has been initiated. CHANCE researchers will study what the identified risk group perceives as barriers to healthy eating. In addition, they will seek to find out what retailers, the food and drink industry, and consumers themselves think prevents this particular group from consuming nutritious foods. Based on these findings, researchers and industry partners together will explore ingredients and raw materials that may be used for the production of food products to address the identified nutritional problems – food products that will be both affordable and attractive to those on a limited budget. It will focus in particular on low-cost technologies and traditional ingredients to develop these foods. Developing new food products requires technical knowledge. Equally important is a good understanding of the lifestyle and needs of the people that are at risk of poverty. CHANCE ingredients and food products will be evaluated in order to meet consumer expectations and production requirements.”

Based on: The European Food Information Council. Healthy food options for people at risk of poverty. EU Projects Supplement 03/2012. Published online April 2012.

References

  1. CHANCE project website, available at: http://www.chancefood.eu/about_2.html
  2. European Commission. Combating poverty and social exclusion – A statistical portrait of the European Union 2010. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 111 pp.