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March 26, 2007

Johns Hopkins Researchers Examine Why People Eat the Foods They Do

Ethnicity and Gender Impact Dietary Choices

People purchase foods based on their income level, their belief in a food's health benefit and cost. However, ethnicity and gender also impact people's food choices, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The study, published in the March 7, 2007, advance online publication of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, reports that food choice is also influenced by environmental factors, such as reliance on fast food, food advertising and food pricing, and on individual factors, such as taste, palatability, convenience and health benefits.

"Low socio-economic status may cause a significant food-cost barrier, which in turn, reduces the quality of an individual's diet. Considering the growing obesity crisis, it is important to make healthy foods accessible to poor segments of the population and to empower them to eat a healthy diet by lowering the price of healthy foods and enhancing tailored nutrition education," said Youfa Wang, MD, PhD, co-author of the study and an assistant professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health's Department of International Health. "Programs that promote positive attitudes towards the benefits of healthy diets can improve diet quality for both genders and all ethnicities."

"People's diets are affected by many factors. We examined some of those factors. Therefore, a large proportion of the association between income level and dietary intake could not be explained by the perceived barrier of food price or the perceived benefit of diet quality," added May A. Beydoun, coauthor of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in the Bloomberg School of Public Health's Department of International Health.

The study authors recommend additional studies aimed at uncovering the complex relationships between socio-economic status, nutritional knowledge, attitudes and perceptions and dietary behavior and food choices.

May A. Beydoun and Youfa Wang, both of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, co-authored the study.

"How do socio-economic status, perceived economic barriers and nutritional benefits affect quality of dietary intake among US adults" was supported by grants from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Kenna Lowe or Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.