Although ‘unhealthy’ diet is a well-known risk factor for non-communicable diseases, its relationship with socio-economic status (SES) has not been fully investigated. Moreover, the available research has largely been conducted in countries at high levels of human development. This is the first study to examine relationships among dietary patterns and SES of children from countries spanning a wide range of human development.
This was a multinational cross-sectional study among 9–11 year-old children (n = 6808) from urban/peri-urban sites across 12 countries. Self-reported food frequency questionnaires were used to determine the children’s dietary patterns. Principal Components Analysis was employed to create two component scores representing ‘unhealthy’ and ‘healthy’ dietary patterns. Multilevel models accounting for clustering at the school and site level were used to examine the relationships among dietary patterns and SES.
The mean age of participants in this study (53.7% girls) was 10.4 years. Largest proportions of total variance in dietary patterns occurred at the individual, site, and school levels (individual, school, site: 62.8%; 10.8%; 26.4% for unhealthy diet pattern (UDP) and 88.9%; 3.7%; 7.4%) for healthy diet pattern (HDP) respectively. There were significant negative ‘unhealthy’ diet-SES gradients in 7 countries and positive ‘healthy’ diet-SES gradients in 5. Within country diet-SES gradients did not significantly differ by HDI. Compared to participants in the highest SES groups, unhealthy diet pattern scores were significantly higher among those in the lowest within-country SES groups in 8 countries: odds ratios for Australia (2.69; 95% CI: 1.33–5.42), Canada (4.09; 95% CI: 2.02–8.27), Finland (2.82; 95% CI: 1.27–6.22), USA (4.31; 95% CI: 2.20–8.45), Portugal (2.09; 95% CI: 1.06–4.11), South Africa (2.77; 95% CI: 1.22–6.28), India (1.88; 95% CI: 1.12–3.15) and Kenya (3.35; 95% CI: 1.91–5.87).
This study provides evidence of diet-SES gradients across all levels of human development and that lower within-country SES is strongly related to unhealthy dietary patterns. Consistency in within-country diet-SES gradients suggest that interventions and public health strategies aimed at improving dietary patterns among children may be similarly employed globally. However, future studies should seek to replicate these findings in more representative samples extended to more rural representation.