Perverse Incentives

Current social marketing campaigns aimed at educating families and whānau about the importance of eating nutritious food sidestep the issue of low income as the source of food insecurity discussed earlier.  Poor parental knowledge does not appear to be the principal reason underlying children’s food insecurity, as the messages of existing social marketing campaigns encouraging healthy eating have attained generally high levels of awareness.  For example, 90 percent of New Zealanders with children 15 years or under were aware of the importance of eating at least five servings of fruit and vegetables per day promoted by the Ministry of Health’s 5+ A Day campaign.[1]

By sidestepping issues pertaining to the affordability of food for low-income families, inadequate diets are thus portrayed as a consequence of ignorance and poor personal choice.  The stigmatisation arising from subsequent moral judgements of parental inadequacy creates a perverse incentive for parents to keep their children home from school if they are unable to provide them with lunch in order to avoid embarrassment or scrutiny.[2]  This absenteeism further exacerbates the poor educational outcomes associated with children’s food insecurity.


[1] Ministry of Health, Healthy Eating – Healthy Action: Oranga Kai – Oranga Pumau: Implementation Plan: 2004-2010 (Wellington, NZ: Ministry of Health, 2004), 41.

[2] Donna Wynd, Filling the Gap: The Case for A National School Breakfast Programme in New Zealand (Auckland, NZ: Child Poverty Action Group, 2009), 5.

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