Does social distinction contribute to socioeconomic inequalities in diet: the case of 'superfoods' consumption

Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2017 Mar 27;14(1):40. doi: 10.1186/s12966-017-0495-x.


Background: The key mechanisms underlying socioeconomic inequalities in dietary intake are still poorly understood, hampering the development of interventions. An important, but sparsely mentioned mechanism is that of 'social distinction', whereby those in a higher socioeconomic position adopt dietary patterns by which they can distinguish themselves from lower socioeconomic groups. We investigated the importance of distinction as a mechanism, by testing the socioeconomic gradient in the consumption of so-called 'superfoods' and the contribution of a well-established indicator of distinction, cultural participation.

Methods: Data from participants (25-75 years) of the 2014 survey of the Dutch population-based GLOBE study were used (N = 2812). Multivariable regression models were used to analyse the association between education, income and cultural participation (e.g. visits to museums, opera, theatre, concerts) and the consumption of superfoods (spelt, quinoa and goji berries, chia seeds or wheatgrass).

Results: The consumption of superfoods is far more prevalent among higher socioeconomic groups. Adjusting for cultural participation strongly attenuated the educational and income gradient in superfoods consumption, whereas cultural participation remained strongly associated with superfoods consumption. Those in the highest quintile of cultural participation reported the highest consumption of spelt products (OR = 2.97, 95% CI = 2.10;4.18), quinoa (OR = 3.50, 95% CI = 2.12;5.79) and goji berries, chia seeds or wheatgrass (OR = 2.69, 95% CI = 1.73;4.17).

Conclusions: The associations between socioeconomic position and the consumption of 'superfoods' seem to be partially driven by a process of social distinction. These findings suggest that distinction may be an important, but currently neglected mechanism in generating socioeconomic inequalities in dietary intake. It deserves a more prominent role in interventions to reduce these inequalities.

Keywords: Cultural participation; Dietary patterns; Distinction; Socioeconomic inequalities; Superfoods.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Diet*
  • Educational Status
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Social Class*
  • Social Distance*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires