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Do individuals with higher education maintain healthier diets?

Researchers investigated dietary patterns among groups with different levels of education and their association with heart disease and stroke.


It has been established that a healthy diet is one packed with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and poultry products. It is presumed that educated people maintain a healthier diet compared to people with a low socioeconomic status. This occurrence may be due to the difference in the level of knowledge, awareness, and the cost of food.

In a recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers in the Netherlands investigated dietary patterns and how they may impact an individual’s health in relation to coronary heart disease and stroke.

For the study, researchers used data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition-Netherlands cohort to evaluate a total of 36, 418 participants. Researchers grouped these individuals into three groups based on their level of education, derived using a questionnaire. These educational groups had three different dietary  patterns: Western, prudent, and traditional.

They characterized the Western dietary pattern as a high intake of fries, savoury snacks, savoury sauces, sugary drinks, low-fibre cereals, alcoholic drinks, and processed meat, as well as a low intake of fruit, vegetables, dairy, and high-fibre bread.

They characterized the prudent dietary pattern as a high consumption of fish, vegetables, wine, fruits, oils, eggs, and a low consumption of sugar and sweets, fries, fat or butter, and high-fat dairy products.

They classified the traditional dietary pattern by a high intake of red meat, processed meat, potatoes, fat or butter, coffee or tea, boiled vegetables, and eggs, and a low intake of soya products, high-fibre cereals, fruit juice, raw vegetables, and nuts.

The researchers analysed the participants consuming these different dietary patterns, for 16 years through the data obtained from their records and the administered questionnaire.

Groups followed different dietary patterns but did not significantly influence disease associations

They found that the less educated group followed the Western pattern and the higher educated group followed more of the prudent pattern than the traditional pattern. These differences in dietary patterns demonstrate an association between diet and an individual’s level of education.

The data analysis found many similarities in the health outcomes across all groups of varied education levels. It further revealed that the level of education does not significantly influence the association between dietary patterns and disease. However, it was observed in all the groups that those eating the traditional pattern of diet had an increased risk of coronary heart diseases and stroke but this increment in risk was found to be greater in the lower educated group.

Individuals with higher education maintain healthier diets

This study supports the fact that higher educated people eat healthier diets than groups with a lower education. This may be due to limitations to availability and accessibility to a healthy die, financial constraints, and hardships from low incomes.

While the study did not find different associations with coronary heart disease and stroke among the three educational groups, it is important to remember that poor dietary patterns have been established to be a major cause of obesity and diabetes, which are significant risk factors for high blood pressure, heart diseases, and stroke.

It is of utmost importance to create awareness and educate individuals on healthy dietary patterns, emphasizing the need for a healthy diet to prevent diseases. An individual’s behaviour towards a healthy diet is crucial to the individual’s health outcomes and longevity.

Written by Ijeoma C. Izundu, MBBS

References: Sander Biesbroek Mirjam C. Kneepkens, Saskia W. van den Berg, Heidi P. Fransen, Joline W. Beulens, Petra H. M. Peeters, and Jolanda M. A. Boer. “Dietary patterns within educational groups and their association with CHD and stroke in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition-Netherlands cohort”. British Journal of Nutrition. May 2018.



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