Nutrition is Affected by Socioeconomic Status – Where is the Sense of Urgency?
Nutritional vulnerability is consistently associated with socioeconomic status (SES). And like genetics and age, we cannot immediately change our SES. Yes, education and opportunity may change the future but for the moment, people are constrained by their current SES.
For those living under lower SES conditions, they carry a disproportionately heavy disease burden. Low SES individuals are more likely to experience periods when food choice and availability is limited. This may partially explain why lower SES individuals consume more energy-dense foods and fewer fruit and vegetables.
Low SES increases the risk of iron deficiency and anemia among Vietnamese women. Iron deficiency is a major cause of anemia. Inadequate intake of iron can be compounded by deficiencies of folate, vitamins B12 and vitamin A which also contribute to the development of anemia. As SES increased, so did red meat consumption and serum ferritin levels. Red meat is not required to prevent iron deficiency but people eating vegetarian diets may benefit from supplementation.
Maternal iron deficiency threatens the health of mothers and inhibits the development of their children. 25% of children under 5y have iron deficiency anemia in many countries. Low SES two-year old children are more likely to consume energy-dense foods.
Dietary patterns are influenced by older siblings (not in a positive manner) and the education of their grandparents as well as their parents. Children of less-educated parents have less healthy dietary patterns. Unless there is an economic windfall, it takes time for parents, and their children, to move up the SES continuum. It may takes years of education and economic improvement to overcome cultural and familial mores. While people strive to improve their SES status, it is important to be indifferent to the means – fortified foods and dietary supplementation – and to focus on improving nutritional status. The individual and societal consequences of hidden hunger don’t wait while the most vulnerable try to improve their situation. Time stops for no one.
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