Unhealthy food preferences: a psychological consequence of poverty?

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Drawing on the literature on the psychological consequences of poverty, this paper examines whether stress explains poor people's stronger preferences for unhealthy food and whether self-affirmation mitigates stress and reduces unhealthy food preferences. Through a quasiexperimental field study of patrons of a community kitchen, we show that poor people (vs. controls) prefer more unhealthy food and, more importantly, that chronic stress mediates the relationship between poverty and unhealthy food preferences. A second quasiexperimental study of poor residents of a home for homeless people replicates this effect for actual unhealthy food choices. A final online study reveals that a social-psychological self-affirmation intervention mitigates poor people's experienced stress, which in turn helps reduce unhealthy food preferences. The discussion focuses on how managing stress through timely interventions such as self-affirmation can improve poor people's unhealthy food preferences. Finally, policy implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)613-639
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Consumer Affairs
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • poverty
  • public policy
  • self-affirmation
  • stress
  • unhealthy eating

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