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Study: Race and Region Often Affect Dietary Pattern a Person Follows

March 13, 2012 -- Your race, age, and where you live may influence what you eat, for better and for worse.

A new study shows most American diets fall into one of five major patterns:

  • Southern: Fried, processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Traditional: Chinese and Mexican food, pasta dishes, pizza, soup, and other mixed dishes including frozen or take-out meals
  • Healthy: Mostly fruits, vegetables, and grains
  • Sweets: Large amounts of sweet snacks and desserts
  • Alcohol: Proteins, alcohol, and salads

Researchers say those differences in dietary patterns may help explain regional and racial differences in the risk of stroke, heart disease, and other major chronic diseases.

“We believe focusing research on dietary patterns better represents how people eat, compared to single foods or nutrients,” says researcher Suzanne Judd, PhD, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, in a news release. “We hope that understanding these patterns will be informative in understanding the role of diet in health and disease disparities.”

Researchers found each of the five diet types is strongly influenced by age, race, region, gender, education, and income.

For example, African-Americans were much more likely than whites to follow a Southern diet, and middle-age adults between 45 and 54 tended to follow a traditional diet.

Diet Affected by Demographics

In the study, presented at an American Heart Association meeting this week, more than 21,000 adults aged 45 and older completed a questionnaire containing 110 food items. The survey was designed to estimate how often people ate various food groups and nutrients.

The results showed clear differences in diet patterns between demographic and socioeconomic groups.

Several groups were associated with the Southern diet, including men, African-Americans, those who live in the Southeastern U.S., and those with lower incomes and education.

Other differences associated with diet patterns included:

  • Older adults, women, and those with a college education were more likely than other groups to follow a healthy diet.
  • Whites, those with annual incomes over $35,000, and those with a college education were more likely to follow the alcohol diet pattern.
  • Middle-age adults, men, and whites were more likely to have a sweet tooth and follow the sweet diet.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary, as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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