The Low Income Project Team, an off-shoot of the Government's own Nutrition Task Force, said that dietary factors were to blame for the higher rates of heart disease, strokes, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, lung and digestive disorders, and obesity among the less well off.
In a second report, also published yesterday, the Task Force recommended a campaign to persuade people to eat more bread, pasta, rice, fruit and vegetables, and fish, funded at pounds 3-5m a year for up to five years. The Government dismissed this, claiming that it was for other sectors to "grasp the marketing opportunities presented by the quest for healthy eating".
The National Food Alliance, an independent consumer watchdog, immediately questioned the Government's commitment to Health of the Nation targets for improving diet. It also criticised ministers for banning discussion on benefit levels by the experts compiling the report.
The Low Income Project report said: "Many of [the diseases] can be argued to have a dietary component in their causation which is consistent with the differences in food consumption between social classes, such as lower consumption of whole grain cereal products, fruit and vegetables and lower intakes of dietary fibre and anti-oxidant nutrients."
It said that some people on low income, often young mothers, went without food regularly."Young householders, the unemployed, those on benefit payments or very low incomes, especially those living in local authority accommodation with rent or fuel deductions from benefit payments, have the greatest difficulties and the worst diets," claimed the LIPT.
The report concluded that infants in low income households were less likely to be breastfed and had a higher prevalence of anaemia. Toddlers had higher intakes of saturated fatty acids and sugar and lower intakes of dietary fibre and vitamins. They had slower growth, more were overweight and suffered tooth decay.
Children aged 10 to 15 had lower intakes of most vitamins and minerals and suffered lower levels of activity and bone mass, plus more anaemia.
Pregnant women had lower energy and nutrient intakes and higher instances of anaemia, still births and low birthweight infants. Older people had lower nutrient intakes, poorer immune systems, and higher rates of illness and death for most diet-related diseases.
The second report by the Nutrition Task Force - its last after being set up two years ago - detailed 21 recommendations for improving the nation's diet, most of which were accepted apart from plans for the new promotional campaign.
Copies of the Nutrition Task Force Report, Eat Well II, and the Low Income Project Team Report, are available from the Department of Health, PO Box 410, Wetherby, LS23 7LN.