Socioeconomic and ethnic differences in the relation between dietary costs and dietary quality: the HELIUS study

Nutr J. 2019 Mar 28;18(1):21. doi: 10.1186/s12937-019-0445-3.


Background: Healthier dietary patterns are generally more costly than less healthy patterns, but dietary costs may be more important for dietary quality in lower educated and ethnic minority groups. The aim of this study was to investigate the association between dietary costs and dietary quality and interactions with ethnicity and socioeconomic position (SEP).

Methods: We used cross-sectional data from 4717 Dutch, Surinamese, Turkish and Moroccan origin participants of the multi-ethnic HELIUS study (the Netherlands), who completed an ethnic-specific food frequency questionnaire (FFQ). The primary outcome measure was dietary quality according to adherence to the Dutch Healthy Diet index 2015 (DHD15-index, range 0-130). Individual dietary costs (the monetary value attached to consumed diets in Euros) were estimated by merging a food price variable with the FFQ nutrient composition database. Regression analyses were used to examine main and interaction effects. Analyses were adjusted for age, sex, smoking, energy intake, physical activity, ethnicity and educational level.

Results: Having higher dietary costs was associated with higher dietary quality. Analyses stratified by educational level showed that associations were stronger in higher educated (Btertile3 = 8.06, 95%CI = 5.63; 10.48) than in lower educated participants (Btertile3 = 5.09, 95%CI = 2.74; 7.44). Stratification by ethnic origin showed strongest associations in Turkish participants (Btertile2 = 9.31, 95%CI = 5.96; 12.65) and weakest associations in Moroccan participants (Btertile3 = 4.29, 95%CI = 0.58; 8.01). Regardless of their level of education, Turkish and Moroccan individuals consumed higher quality diets at the lowest cost than Dutch participants.

Conclusions: The importance of dietary costs for dietary quality differs between socioeconomic and ethnic subgroups. Increasing individual food budgets or decreasing food prices may be effective for the promotion of healthy diets, but differential effects across socioeconomic and ethnic subgroups may be expected.

Keywords: DASH; Diet; Dietary costs; Dutch healthy eating index; Ethnicity; Food cost; HELIUS study; Mediterranean diet; Socioeconomic position.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Costs and Cost Analysis*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet / economics*
  • Diet Records
  • Diet, Healthy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ethnicity*
  • Female
  • Food
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Minority Groups
  • Morocco / ethnology
  • Netherlands
  • Socioeconomic Factors*
  • Suriname / ethnology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Turkey / ethnology