Affordability, accessibility, opportunity: Parental motivation behind food purchases in a low-income community

Lower-income families, as well as families of minority ethnicities, often attain lower dietary outcomes than wealthier families of the majority ethnicity. A significant reason for this is often food environments, which, being immediate and all-encompassing, shape and form food purchasing choices at every stage.

Varying levels of food affordability, as well as availability and even accessibility, has been shown to heavily influence what foods parents buy for their children. In addition, children themselves have been shown to influence parents’ choices, with some parents buying food during schooltime to avoid being persuaded by their offspring into buying food of poor nutritional quality. Finally, lack of food preparation time influences what people buy.

This study, published in the journal Appetite, ​aimed to examine the motivations behind parental food buying choices in a low-income and ethnically diverse area of Birmingham, UK. The area, not named by the study, has a population with 64% from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background and 70% under the age of 45, with low life expectancy and higher than average levels of infant mortality.

Striving for health

The complexity of making food choices in an unstable food environment shows that it is not necessarily easy for parents to make the right such choices.

Using the COM-B approach, the study looked at parental capability, opportunity and motivation for buying the right food. Put simply, it questioned whether parents had the capability to make the food in the first place (whether they had the skills to produce the food, whether they had the facilities to cook it) whether they had the social and temporal opportunity to do so (whether they have time to cook, whether it’s socially acceptable to cook from scratch) and whether they had the motivation (whether they actually wanted to cook the food).