Children of parents with little education, are less healthy
Children of parents who have received little education, are more likely to be obese and have higher levels of insulin and blood lipids compared to children whose parents have received a higher education. Increasing the intake of fish and high-fibre products in the children’s diets could be a solution to improve their health according to the latest research from the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sport at the University of Copenhagen and published in Public Health Nutrition.
The results of a survey of 715 Danish children, aged between 8-11 years presented a link between children with a poorer health profile, and parents with little education. In addition it revealed that the children of less educated parents were more overweight, have lower levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids in their blood, and eat less fibre in their diet.
“Overall, our survey shows that social inequality in health begins in childhood. It is not just parents with little education who are disadvantaged on health parameters, it is also seen in the children, and can probably contribute to an increased risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the long term,” says Hanne Hauger, who is a PHD-student at the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports.
Importance of early prevention of social inequality
The Food Administration recommends that Danes should eat 350 grams of fish per week, however the study shows that not all children are meeting this target and the results are particularly low in children of parents with little education. One third of the children in this group did not eat fish at all and therefore had the lowest levels of the healthy omega-3 fatty acids in the blood. This group also ate the lowest amounts of fibre and had an increased risk of obesity.
“We have long known of a social disadvantage in childhood, when it comes to obesity and diets, and some studies have also shown that children of parents with little education are disadvantaged in terms of insulin and blood lipids. What is new, is that the intake of fish and dietary fibre itself seems to play a significant role in the inequality in children’s health. It is not only inequality in obesity that is important to focus on” says associate professor of child nutrition, Ph.D. Camilla T. Damsgaard, responsible for the study.
She continues: “This means that measures to ensure healthy food is available for all children, through the offer of healthy school meal programs that do not cost too much for the families, probably could help to reduce inequality in health among children”.
About the study
The study was conducted as part of the Research Center OPUS in 2011-2012. Third and Fourth grade school children from across nine schools in Zealand and Copenhagen took part. Their diets and physical activity were recorded for seven days, the children were measured and weighed and their body composition was examined in a whole body scanner.
As the survey is based on a snapshot of children followed over time, one cannot, from this study alone, determine the importance of eating more fish and fibre to prevent social inequality in health, however the results should be investigated in future studies.
The article ‘Socioeconomic differences in cardiometabolic risk markers are mediated by diet and body fatness in 8- to 11-year-old Danish children: a cross-sectional study‘ is the result of a collaboration between scientists from the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, University of Copenhagen and researchers from the National Food Institute at the Technical University of Denmark. The results are part of the Research Center OPUS, which was supported by the Nordea Foundation with 100 million kr. The results have just been published in the scientific journal Public Health Nutrition.