Socioeconomic differences in food preference and their influence on healthy food purchasing choices

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Abstract

Background:

Studies have shown that socioeconomic groups differ in their dietary behaviours, and it has been suggested that these differences partly account for health inequalities between social groups. To-date, however, we have a limited understanding of why socioeconomic groups differ in their dietary behaviours. This paper addresses this issue by examining the relationship between socioeconomic status, food preference (likes and dislikes) and the purchase of 'healthy' food (i.e. food consistent with dietary guideline recommendations).

Methods:

This study was based on a dual-sample, dual-method research design. One sample was systematically selected from the Australian Commonwealth electoral roll and the data collected using a mail-survey methodology (81% response rate, n=403). The second consisted of a convenience sample of economically disadvantaged people recruited via welfare agencies (response rate unknown, n=70). A mail survey methodology was deemed inappropriate for this sample, so the data were collected by personally delivering the questionnaire to each respondent.

Results:

Socioeconomic groups differed significantly in their food purchasing choices and preferences. The food choices of respondents in the welfare sample were the least consistent with dietary guideline recommendations, and they reported liking fewer healthy foods (all results were independent of age and sex). Notably, socioeconomic differences in preference explained approximately 10% of the socioeconomic variability in healthy food purchasing behaviour.

Conclusion:

Whilst it is not clear why socioeconomic groups differ in their food preferences, possible reasons include: reporting bias, differential exposure to healthy food as a consequence of the variable impact of health promotion campaigns, structural and economic barriers to the procurement of these foods, and subculturally specific beliefs, values, meanings, etc.

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