The relationship between diet and socio-economic status has rarely been examined in children and adolescents in France. The expert assessment conducted by ANSES on this topic shows that the diet of underprivileged children and adolescents is of a lower quality. However, the parents' education level appears to be a more significant determining factor in diet quality than income criteria.
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Updated on 25/08/2016
Socio-economic disparities in the diets of children and adolescents
Overview and ANSES’s recommendations
According to the data available in France and in Europe, the nutrition of adults with low socio-economic status is less satisfactory than that of more privileged population groups. This issue has rarely been studied in children and adolescents in France. In light of this, ANSES decided to conduct a comprehensive review of the bibliographical data available and describe the diet of these children and adolescents based on the data from its national INCA 2 survey. The results of this work were published in February 2013.
A snapshot of food consumption
The ANSES survey shows that the diet of underprivileged children and adolescents is of a lower quality (25% of them have a diet that is nutritionally satisfactory, as opposed to 40% of those from more privileged backgrounds) and less varied, although the differences observed are comparatively slight.
It also confirms that they:
- eat less fruit and vegetables (up to one portion less per day);
- consume more soft drinks (up to 2.5 glasses more per week).
Therefore, concerning intake of fruits and vegetables and soft drinks, the divergence with regard to the PNNS nutritional guidelines (5 portions of fruit and vegetables and half a glass of soft drinks per day), already observed for children and adolescents in the general population, is even greater in underprivileged groups.
Certain unexpected results are also highlighted:
- The study shows no differences in fish consumption for children and adolescents regardless of their socio-economic status;
- It shows lower intake levels for certain sugar-based products (confectionery, chocolate bars, cakes, etc.), by underprivileged children and adolescents;
- No difference in the total intake of dairy products (underprivileged children drink more milk but eat less yoghurt).
On the basis of these observations concerning consumption, ANSES sought to determine the specific socio-economic factors (household income, socio-professional category, education, etc.) that are most closely linked to dietary disparities. The parents’ education level appears to be a determining factor for the nutritional quality of the diet. This means that, for a given income level, nutritional quality increases with the parent‘s level of studies.
Furthermore, as regards overweight and obesity (14% of 3 to 17-year-olds are overweight, and about 3% are obese), the INCA2 study found no differences in energy intake with regard to socio-economic status. However, underprivileged children and adolescents are generally more at risk of weight problems. This finding highlights the important role of low levels of physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle in excess weight and obesity in these children and adolescents, especially girls.
More than a third of young people, irrespective of their socio-professional categories, exceed PNNS recommendations in terms of sugar intake. The Agency strongly recommends pursuing and intensifying policy initiatives which aim to reduce the intake of sugars added to foods, and especially those from soft drinks.
More generally, the Agency reiterates the importance of a varied and balanced diet, as well as daily physical activity (at least 30 minutes of brisk walking) in order to extend life expectancy in good health.