Class differences in the food rules mothers impose on their children: a cross-national study.

C.L.H. Hupkens, R.A. Knibbe, A.H. van Otterloo, M.J. Drop

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Department of Medical Sociology, University of Maastricht, The Netherlands.

Many studies indicate that children in middle-class families have healthier eating habits than children in lower class families. Class differences in food rules, which parents and especially mothers impose on their children, may underlie these social inequalities in food consumption. The present study uses education as a classifying variable and analyses whether mothers with higher education prescribe more "healthy" foodstuffs for their children and whether they restrict more "unhealthy" food items than less educated mothers. Moreover, the study examines whether higher class mothers consider health aspects more often and the preferences of their family members less often in their choice of food, and whether class differences in these considerations explain class differences in food rules. To answer these questions, questionnaires on the food practices of 849 women living in middle-class or lower class districts in Maastricht (the Netherlands), Liege (Belgium) and Aachen (Germany) were collected and analysed. The majority of mothers in each city prescribed primarily foods that were served at dinner like meat and vegetables, and most mothers limited their children's consumption of sweet foods, soft drinks and snacks. Higher class mothers restricted more foods, but prescribed as many food items as their lower class counterparts. Class differences in the number of restricted foods were partly, but not completely, explained by class differences in health and taste considerations. Despite national variations in dietary habits and possibly in the education of children, class differences in food rules and the explanatory power of health and taste considerations were comparable in the three cities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1331-1339
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1998

Cite this