Study looks at food-shopping habits of some Harlow mums

Communities / Mon 8th Aug 2016 pm31 01:28pm

A NEW study conducted by the Healthwatch Essex Research Team has looked at the factors that influence the food-shopping habits of mothers from an area of relative deprivation in Essex, getting to the reasons why they buy what they buy.

Interesting findings revealed that mothers often had an emotional reaction to food and a desire to ‘treat’ members of their families. They used food to express their care and maternal instinct, with the food-shopping budget often directed in favour of the likes and dislikes of their partners or children.

This emotional response to food further extended to a preference for branded items. Coca-Cola was one of the examples cited by the mothers as tasting ‘better’ than own-brand alternatives. Despite coming from a low-income background and conducting food-shopping on a very limited budget, the cheaper option was often disregarded for this reason.

“The study highlights the complex relationship we have with food when making purchases and that it is not just a matter of individual decision-making, but is influenced by wider socio-cultural factors,” explained Dr Oonagh Corrigan, Commissioning and Research Manager at Healthwatch Essex.

“We know from past research that when food-shopping, we engage in what is called ‘social relations of consumption’. Food reinforces a sense of cultural belonging. It has been well documented that ‘healthy eating’ and preparing home cooked meals from scratch are examples of middle-class cultural norms and values that those living in more deprived areas and/or on more limited budgets find difficult to replicate.”

That said, the study found that the mothers had a relatively good understanding of basic healthy foods, and tried to incorporate vegetables into their diet where they could. However, while they understood ‘healthy’ eating as a concept, their shopping practices were subject to various pressures – social, financial and familial.

So this meant that even when they made what they considered were ‘healthier’ choices they were often compromised. Meals made using packet sauces for example were cited by the mothers as healthy.

When digging a little deeper it was revealed that while the mothers said they were personally willing to eat more healthily, they could not afford to cater to making different meals for different family members, so all-rounder ‘crowd-pleasing’ items such as meals made from the packet sauces were opted for instead.

The report on the study is published today (1st August) on the Healthwatch Essex website: http://www.healthwatchessex.org.uk/what-we-do/our-reports/

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