Traversing myths and mountains: addressing socioeconomic inequities in the promotion of nutrition and physical activity behaviours

In developed countries, individuals experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage – whether a low education level, low income, low-status occupation, or living in a socioeconomically disadvantaged neighbourhood – are less likely than those more advantaged to engage in eating and physical activity behaviours conducive to optimal health. These socioeconomic inequities in nutrition and physical activity (and some sedentary) behaviours are graded, persistent, and evident across multiple populations and studies. They are concerning in that they mirror socioeconomic inequities in obesity and in health outcomes. Yet there remains a dearth of evidence of the most effective means of addressing these inequities. People experiencing disadvantage face multiple challenges to healthy behaviours that can appear insurmountable. With increasing recognition of the role of underlying structural and societal factors as determinants of nutrition and physical activity behaviours and inequities in these behaviours, and the limited success of behaviour change approaches in addressing these inequities, we might wonder whether there remains a role for behavioural scientists to tackle these challenges.DiscussionThis debate piece argues that behavioural scientists can play an important role in addressing socioeconomic inequities in nutrition, physical activity and sedentary behaviours, and that this will involve challenging myths and taking on new perspectives. There are successful models for doing so from which we can learn.SummaryAddressing socioeconomic inequities in eating, physical activity and sedentary behaviours is challenging. However, successful examples demonstrate that overcoming such challenges is possible, and provide guidance for doing so. Given the disproportionate burden of ill health carried by people experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage, all our nutrition and physical activity interventions, programs and policies should be designed to reach and positively impact these individuals at greatest need.

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