The link between diet and your social position in life is well-established but poorly understood.
How Does Money Affect What You Eat?
People with high levels of education and income always seem to eat better than those that don’t but it’s hard to tell if it’s due to money, ignorance, social norms, differences in intelligence, or a genetic predisposition to value present consumption over less discernible long-term benefits.
Two papers came out in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggesting part of answer might be simple: lack of cash.
One study looked at dietary patterns of people in different regions in France. Then they compared their eating habits with their levels of education and income to see if the effect of either variable changed from one region to the next. Here’s the result:
The relationship between educational level and adherence to the national nutritional health guidelines differs from one region of France to another, suggesting that nutrition education programmes should perhaps be adapted on a regional basis. In contrast, guideline adherence is correlated with income tax level independently of geographical factors, suggesting that financial constraints on food choices are uniform across France.
In some places the effect on education was high or low, but the income effect on food choice was immutable.
The other paper had a similar goal, but studied a group of 1,000 people in Seattle. They measured the correlations between someone’s income and education level with their cost of diet and their diet quality.
Money + Education = Health
The end results weren’t surprising. More money, more education = better diet. However, there was a caveat. When you expanded the Income/Money – diet quality relationship to the income/education – diet cost- diet quality relationship, the correlation had a higher level of variability. Meaning the cost of healthy food had an impact on overall diet quality independent of of someone’s overall income or education level. Here’s a summary of their finding:
Higher quality diets were in turn associated with higher diet costs. All these associations were significant (P<0.0001). In formal mediation analyses, diet cost significantly mediated the pathway between income and diet quality measures, adjusting for covariates.
So while many pundits concern themselves over the “food environment” the lesser off find themselves in, maybe they’re not giving these people enough credit. They know what they ought to be doing, and have some capability of doing so…….but they just don’t have enough money.