More educated people eat healthier - and more expensive - food than less educated individuals, regardless of how much money they make, suggests new research appearing in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
Wealthier, more educated people are at lower risk of many health problems, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, Drs Pablo Monsivais and Adam Drewnowski of the University of Washington in Seattle note in their report. They also eat more healthily, and it has been difficult to figure out whether their higher-quality diet, higher socioeconomic status, or a mix of both account for their better health.
To investigate, Monsivais and Drewnowski looked at energy density and diet costs in 103 women and 61 men. Energy density is the amount of energy contained in a given food by weight, for example the number of kilojoules per gram. Less energy-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products tend to be more nutritious than more energy-dense foods like fast food and candy.
The researchers found among both men and women that those with the least energy-dense diets consumed more nutrients, and they spent more per kilojoule. Those with the most energy-dense diets had lower intakes of micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals, and ate less fibre and more fat. Kilojoule by kilojoule, their diets were cheaper.
What the study revealed
The amount of money a person spent on food each day had no consistent relationship with his or her income, but when the researchers looked at spending on a kilojoule-by-kilojoule basis, they found that cost per kilojoule increased with income.
It also rose with education. People who did not have a bachelor's degree spent about R70 for every 8 400 kilojoules they ate, compared to R80 for people with postgraduate degrees.
Further analysis demonstrated that education was a stronger factor in the relationship than household income.
Nutrition is closely related to health, and diet is also "intimately linked" to socioeconomic status, the researchers note. "The findings reported here raise the possibility that the higher monetary cost of nutritious diets may provide one explanation for these observations," they conclude. – (Reuters Health, June 2009)
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