Background: The aim of this study is to identify the socio-economic and health-related factors in childhood and later life associated with healthy eating in early old age.
Methods: The study is based on surviving members of the Boyd Orr cohort aged 61-80 years. Data are available on household diet and socio-economic position in childhood and on health and social circumstances in later life. A 12-item Healthy Diet Score (HDS) for each subject was constructed from food frequency questionnaire responses. Complete data on all exposures examined were available for 1234 cohort members.
Results: Over 50% of study members had inadequacies in at least half of the 12 markers of diet quality. In multivariable models having a childhood diet which was rich in vegetables was associated with a healthy diet in early old age. The HDS for those in the upper quartile of childhood vegetable intake was 0.30 (95% confidence interval -0.01 to 0.61) higher than those with the lowest intake levels (P-trend across quartiles = 0.04). The adult factors that were most strongly associated with a healthy diet were not smoking, being an owner-occupier, and taking anti-hypertensive medication.
Conclusion: Our analysis indicates that diet in early old age is influenced by childhood vegetable consumption, current socio-economic position, and smoking. Interventions for improving the diet of older people could usefully focus on both encouragement of healthy diet choices from an early age and higher levels of income or nutritional support for older people.