'‘Absorbing the shock’: Food scarcity and eating behaviours within the context of in-work poverty in North East England

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INTRODUCTION: In-work poverty (IWP) describes when an individual is in employment but has financial resources close to or underneath income thresholds for poverty. It is a multifaceted phenomenon characterised by financial and employment insecurity, and low income¹, IWP is a growing problem in the UK. The majority of people categorised as living in poverty reside in working households².This study aimed to specifically explore why people in IWP may have poorer health behaviours.

METHODS: Experiences of individuals self-reporting whole-household IWP in North East England were explored with relation to health behaviours (n=6). Participants were recruited opportunistically via social media and a local housing support service, providing they met a variety of financial and non-financial risk factors associated with IWP. An inductive reflexive approach to thematic analysis was adopted using face-to-face semi-structured interviews.

RESULTS: Participants were predominantly white females with children reported struggling with debt and housing costs. Three themes were found relating to eating behaviour and food poverty: 1) cognitive load; 2) food poverty ‘shock absorbers’; and c) health needs as ‘bottom of the pile’. Contributors to poor eating behaviours such as the consumption of calorific and poorly nutritious food, included financial scarcity and prioritization of children’s health needs. Feeding a household on a low budget required constant strategising, with a reliance on freezer food, reduced sections and avoiding perishable foods; resulting in reduced availability and variability of fresh produce within the household. Eating became a purely economic choice, as opposed to one driven by health needs.

CONCLUSION: Eating behaviours are altered in households experiencing IWP leading to obesogenic environments, the effects of which appear to be more pronounced for particular subgroups such as single parents. Policy changes are needed to increase access to healthy nutritious foods for single parents, for example in the provision of healthy food vouchers.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020
EventEuropean and International Congress on Obesity 2020 -
Duration: 1 Sept 20204 Sept 2020


ConferenceEuropean and International Congress on Obesity 2020
Abbreviated titleECOICO 2020
Internet address


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