Introduction: Epidemiological studies have shown that dietary behaviour is an important aetiological factor in various chronic diseases. We used principal component factor analysis to identify dietary patterns and to examine the associations of these patterns with health-related variables in a sample of elderly (> or =60 years) Italians participating in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC).
Methods and results: Exploratory factor analysis was applied to the intake of food groups as estimated by semi-quantitative food questionnaires. Individual participants were assigned factor scores, indicating the extent to which their diet conformed to each of the four dietary patterns identified: prudent (cooked vegetables, pulses, cabbage, seed oil and fish); pasta & meat (pasta, tomato sauce, red meat, processed meat, bread and wine); olive oil & salad (raw vegetables, olive oil, soup and chicken); and sweet & dairy (sugar, cakes, ice cream, coffee and dairy). Highly educated people had high scores on prudent and low scores on pasta & meat. The pasta & meat and prudent patterns were strongly positively associated with body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) in men and women. Hyperlipidaemic men and women consumed more of the prudent and olive oil & salad patterns and less of the sweet & dairy pattern than those with normal lipids. The olive oil & salad was significantly higher and the pasta & meat and sweet & dairy patterns significantly lower in men and women who had dieted over the previous year, suggesting awareness of the health consequences of these patterns.
Conclusions: Dietary pattern analysis provides a characterization of recurrent dietary behaviour in elderly people, and can be used to provide tangible dietary advice to elderly people.