Highly Processed and Ready-to-Eat Packaged Food and Beverage Purchases Differ by Race/Ethnicity among US Households1–3

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Racial/ethnic disparities in dietary quality persist among Americans, but it is unclear whether highly processed foods or convenience foods contribute to these inequalities.


We examined the independent associations of race/ethnicity with highly processed and ready-to-eat (RTE) food purchases among US households. We determined whether controlling for between-group differences in purchases of these products attenuated associations between race/ethnicity and the nutritional quality of purchases.


The 2000–2012 Homescan Panel followed US households (n = 157,142) that scanned their consumer packaged goods (CPG) food and beverage purchases. By using repeated-measures regression models adjusted for sociodemographic characteristics, we examined time-varying associations of race/ethnicity with processed and convenience food purchases, expressed as a percentage of calories purchased. We estimated associations between race/ethnicity and saturated fat, sugar, or energy density of total purchases with and without adjustment for processed and convenience food purchases.


Compared with white households, black households had significantly lower purchases of highly processed foods (-4.1% kcal) and RTE convenience foods (-4.9% kcal) and had higher purchases of basic processed foods, particularly cooking oils and sugar (+5.4% kcal), foods requiring cooking/preparation (+4.5% kcal), and highly processed beverages (+7.1% kcal). Hispanics also had lower purchases of highly processed and RTE foods than whites. Blacks had CPG purchases with significantly higher median sugar (+2.2% kcal) and energy density (+72 kcal/1000 g), whereas Hispanics had purchases with lower saturated fat (-0.6% kcal) and energy density (-25 kcal/1000 g) than whites. Racial/ethnic differences remained significant after adjustment for processed and convenience food purchases.


In our study, compared with white households, both black and Hispanic households had lower purchases of highly processed and RTE foods, yet had total CPG purchases with differing nutritional quality. Our findings suggest that highly processed convenience foods are associated with, but cannot fully explain, racial/ethnic disparities in the nutritional quality of CPG purchases.

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