From the Chronicle of Social Change — Feeding a child is about more than just nutrition; it’s also a means of communicating love. Yet, for low-income parents, meals tend to involve fast food and processed snacks. It’s not that they lack knowledge on healthy eating, or that they don’t care about their child’s health. Rather, junk food is an affordable way to satisfy their child’s needs — and their wants.

For many foster parents, parental affection in the form of candy and soda on parent-child visits is a familiar occurrence.

“The consequence is you get a child back that’s high on sugar,” said Shawn Johnson, foster parent and board member of the National Foster Parent Association. He says it then becomes an issue of deciding how involved you want to get in regulating visits: “Should I step in and put my foot down? Or let it go — and deal with the behavioral side effects of sugar that evening?”

A new study from Stanford sheds light on why some parents choose to show love through fast food. After in-depth interviews with more than 160 parents and children up and down the income ladder, the author found that being able to indulge a child’s request might motivate poor parents to buy that can of soda more than affordability alone.

Researcher Priya Fielding-Singh conceived the study in part because of her own experience growing up in a home that fostered children.

“This early exposure to inequality got under my skin,” said Fielding-Singh. “Seeing the challenges that my foster siblings were facing made me want to better understand how poverty affects everything from our education to our health.”

Fielding-Singh set out to see what drives nutritional disparities between America’s rich and poor. To answer this question, she interviewed 74 families of different socioeconomic status (low, middle and high), then spent more than 100 hours observing the daily dietary habits of four individual families.

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