Parents and Teenagers conceptions of diet

  • Wills, Wendy (PI)
  • Kendall, Sally (CoI)
  • Lawton, J. (Researcher)
  • Backett-Milburn, Kathryn (Researcher)

Project: Research

Project Details

Key findings

There is increasing concern about the health and eating habits of young people in the UK and a growing awareness among policymakers of the role of social class in health outcomes. This research sought to contribute to a better understanding of the ways in which class-related differences in family lifestyles and experiences impact on the diet, weight and health of young people. We examined the everyday lifestyles, opinions and experiences of young middle-class teenagers and their families and analysed how these influenced their eating habits, weight and health. By comparing the results from this research with those from a study of the same design which we had previously conducted with families from lower social class groups, we illustrate how differences in social class influenced the eating habits, weight and health of young people.

Key findings

Middle-class families: opinions and practices:

• Middle-class parents and teenagers expressed few worries about their daily lives and few concerns about money. Most reported that they lived in pleasant, safe areas.

• Middle-class parents supervised their teenagers’ food choices on a daily basis and some aspects of food consumption were non-negotiable. For example, most young people were expected to eat, or at least try, some vegetables, even if they did not always enjoy them.

• These parents and teenagers stated that they did not want to be seen as judgemental towards people who were overweight; however, they frequently adopted a moralistic position on weight.

• Teenagers felt it was important not to become fat and often equated being fat with being seen to be lazy, unhealthy or lacking in self control; they also believed being overweight prevented people from taking full advantage of what life has to offer, particularly in terms of sport or other physical activity.

• Parents’ concerns about their children being overweight focused on potential poor health in later life, poor self-image and being unable to take advantage of a full range of opportunities in life.

Diet, weight and health: does class matter?:

• The lives of the middle-class parents and teenagers in this study were relatively secure and they assumed that they would be able to make choices in their lives and fulfil their aspirations in the future.

• This contrasted with the findings from the previous study, of working-class families, whose lives were characterized by risk, insecurity and a strong focus on the ‘here and now’. In these families concerns about food, weight and health issues took a backseat behind more pressing worries about everyday life.

• These differences in the way people from different social classes see and live their lives underpin their eating habits and contribute to inequalities in health.

Effective start/end date1/09/061/08/08


  • UKRI - Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC): £129,187.00


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