April 4, 2007 / 4:44 PM / 12 years ago

Income and food cost concerns affect diet: study

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Income and education level, and the perceived price of certain foods, impact what Americans eat and the overall diet of the US adult population, according to survey data from a nationally representative group of more than 4300 Americans 20 to 65 years old.

A shopper looks at a selection of steaks in a Chicago grocery store in a file photo. Income and education level, and the perceived price of certain foods, impact what Americans eat and the overall diet of the adult population, according to survey data. REUTERS/Frank Polich

The investigators evaluated subject data from two cross-sectional surveys that included questions about socioeconomic status, importance of nutrition, and other factors that influenced the subjects’ diet.

Adults in higher socioeconomic groups (measured by income and education) have higher quality diets, report Drs. May A. Beydoun and Youfa Wang from the Center for Human Nutrition, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore.

Higher socioeconomic groups ate less fat, saturated fat and cholesterol and ate more fiber, fruits and vegetables, and had more calcium in their diet.

“Socioeconomic constraints on individuals and households can lead to a poorer diet quality,” they warn in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

However, the data also suggest that the effect of socioeconomic status on diet quality may differ across gender and racial/ethnic groups. “In particular, women and whites benefit more in their dietary intake from a higher socioeconomic status than do men or African Americans, specifically in terms of fat, saturated fat and fiber intakes,” Wang told Reuters Health.

Awareness about diet and nutrition also impacts dietary content, the data show. In general, health awareness about diet and nutrition or “perceived benefit of diet quality” predicted better overall diet quality, although women had higher quality diets than men with increased awareness.

Beydoun and Wang also found that individuals who perceived food price as a barrier also had poorer diets; for example, they had more sodium and less fiber in their diets, regardless of socioeconomic status.

These findings, the authors say, have several policy implications. Because the price of healthy and unhealthy foods differ markedly in the US, “our findings suggest that low socioeconomic status may cause a significant food-cost barrier, which in turn, reduces the quality of the diet, particularly in terms of energy, fat, sodium, and simple sugars.”

“Hence, perceptions go in line with actual reality and it is therefore important to make healthy foods accessible to the poor segments of the adult population by lowering their price whilst increasing the price of the unhealthy foods.”

SOURCE: European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 2007.

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