Mortality rates among industrialized societies are known to follow a pattern, especially when it comes to socioeconomic status. Overall, disadvantaged groups suffer from hypertension, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, dental problems, and some forms of cancer at a higher rate than non-disadvantaged groups. But, why is this? Research has shown that socioeconomic status (SES) plays a great role in diet quality, and therefore the overall health of human beings.
Several dietary surveys have noted differences in dietary consumption among people of varying SES. For example, the consumption of whole grains is associated with higher SES, whereas the consumption of refined cereals is associated with lower SES. A greater consumption of fruits and vegetables is also associated with higher SES. In the United States, children from families with lower education levels had the lowest fruit intakes and the highest sweetened beverage intakes.
Studies of plasma biomarkers of dietary exposure provide additional evidence that SES affects diet quality (note: many of these studies have been focused on nutritionally at-risk groups such as the elderly and pregnant women). In a study of people aged 65 and older conducted in the United Kingdom, plasma concentrations of vitamins C and B-12, riboflavin, and β-carotene were lower in the low-SES group than in the high-SES group. Urinary measures of sodium and potassium also indicated an imbalance in the ratio of sodium to potassium, with less favorable potassium concentrations found in the low-SES group.
These differences between low-SES groups and high-SES groups are mainly seen due to the expense of fresh produce, especially in the United States. However, there are other factors that also play into this difference. The lack of knowledge about nutrition is said to have a high impact on dietary consumption. Also, limited time for grocery shopping and cooking can have an influence on food intake among low-income mothers and their children. Lastly, an interesting study conducted in the US among poor families showed that the establishment of a strong social network among migrants and the maintenance of cultural traditions were associated with a lower risk of food insecurity, independent of income level.
What do you think we can do to narrow the gap between low-SES and high-SES dietary consumption?