Objectives: To examine the association between education level and food purchasing behaviour and the contribution of dietary knowledge to this relationship; and the association between household income and purchasing behaviour and the contribution made by subjective perceptions about the cost of healthy food.
Design and setting: The study was conducted in Brisbane City (Australia) in 2000. The sample was selected using a stratified two-stage cluster design. Data were collected by face-to-face interview from residents of private dwellings (n=1003), and the response rate was 66.4%. Dietary knowledge was measured using a 20-item index that assessed general knowledge about food, nutrition, health and their interrelationships. Food-cost concern was measured using a three-item scale derived from principal components analysis (alpha=0.647). Food purchasing was measured using a 16-item index that reflected a household's purchase of grocery items that were consistent (or otherwise) with dietary guideline recommendations. Associations among the variables were analysed using linear regression with adjustment for age and sex.
Results: Significant associations were found between education, household income and food purchasing behaviour. Food shoppers with low levels of education, and those residing in low-income households, were least likely to purchase foods that were comparatively high in fibre and low in fat, salt and sugar. Socio-economic differences in dietary knowledge represented part of the pathway through which educational attainment exerts an influence on diet; and food purchasing differences by household income were related to diet in part via food-cost concern.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that socio-economic differences in food purchasing behaviour may contribute to the relationship between socio-economic position and food and nutrient intakes, and, by extension, to socio-economic health inequalities for diet-related disease. Further, socio-economic differences in dietary knowledge and concerns about the cost of healthy food play an important role in these relationships and hence should form the focus of future health promotion efforts directed at reducing health inequalities and encouraging the general population to improve their diets.