Healthy eating in UK minority ethnic households: Influences and way forward

Author(s): Punita Chowbey;   Deborah Harrop;  

Briefing series: Better Health Briefing Paper 42

Publisher: Race Equality Foundation

Publication date: July 2016

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Healthy eating in UK minority ethnic households: Influences and way forward
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Many minority ethnic groups living in the UK experience health inequalities in the form of higher rates of mortality and morbidity as compared to the white population (Liu, et al., 2015; Liu et al., 2012; Ghouri, 2005; Nazroo, 2003; Bhopal, 2002). It has been argued that health inequalities experienced by minority ethnic populations will in part be affected by food differences (Ludwig, Cox and Ellahi, 2011; Ludvigsen and Scott, 2009). However, there is limited evidence on the food choices and eating practices of minority ethnic populations due to small sample sizes, difficulties in collecting information and small scale contradictory findings. It is therefore not a surprise that policies and practices informed by limited and contradictory evidence have not been able to tackle the issues of healthy diet and obesity. This paper draws on the findings from academic and grey literature, alongside the outcomes from a qualitative study conducted in three cities in the North of England which explored the influences on food choices among minority ethnic populations. Where possible, UK literature has been used. Because South Asian minorities are the most populous in the UK and there is a larger existing literature on their dietary practices, it has been easier to provide examples from these communities. UK based examples from other minority ethnic populations have been used where possible, but in some instances the findings from other Western countries have been used instead. It must not be assumed that minority ethnic groups have homogenous food practices. 

Key messages:

  • Health inequalities experienced by minority ethnic populations in the UK will, in part, be affected by dietary differences. However, conclusive evidence on eating practices is limited due to small sample sizes, difficulties in collecting information and contradictory findings.
  • Food practices of minority ethnic individuals are not homogenous and vary not only by ethnicity, but also by generation, geographic origin, age and religion. There is a need to recognise the factors which sit alongside ethnicity, e.g. social, gender and economic factors, which influence awareness of healthy eating, food choice, timing of meals and portion sizes.
  • There are a range of influences on food practices, including household dynamics, community and socio-cultural norms and the issue of affordability and accessibility of food which are embedded in the wider context of poverty and deprivation.
  • Policies and practices have narrowly focussed on improving healthy eating by improving knowledge and skills about food categories and cooking. There is a need to design culturally sensitive interventions that build on positive food practices and adopt a family and community centred approach with a focus on early years. Further, the availability, cost, quality and convenience of healthy food are crucial. 

Sections:

  • Introduction
  • Healthy eating among minority ethnic populations in the UK: what is known?
  • What are the main influences on the dietary habits of the minority ethnic populations?
  • Way forward