Objective: To examine the influence of individual- and area-level socio-economic characteristics on food choice behaviour and dietary intake.
Setting: The city of Eindhoven in the south-east Netherlands.
Design: A total of 1339 men and women aged 25-79 years were sampled from 85 areas (mean number of participants per area = 18.4, range 2-49). Information on socio-economic position (SEP) and diet was collected by structured face-to-face interviews (response rate 80.9%). Individual-level SEP was measured by education and household income, and area-level deprivation was measured using a composite index that included residents' education, occupation and employment status. Diet was measured on the basis of (1) a grocery food index that captured compliance with dietary guidelines, (2) breakfast consumption and (3) intakes of fruit, total fat and saturated fat. Multilevel analyses were performed to examine the independent effects of individual- and area-level socio-economic characteristics on the dietary outcome variables.
Results: After adjusting for individual-level SEP, few trends or significant effects of area deprivation were found for the dietary outcomes. Significant associations were found between individual-level SEP and food choice, breakfast consumption and fruit intake, with participants from disadvantaged backgrounds being less likely to report food behaviours or nutrient intakes consistent with dietary recommendations.
Conclusions: The findings suggest that an individual's socio-economic characteristics play a more important role in shaping diet than the socio-economic characteristics of the area in which they live. In this Dutch study, no independent influence of area-level socio-economic characteristics on diet was detected, which contrasts with findings from the USA, the UK and Finland.