Public Health Nutrition

Research Article

Secular trends in the association of socio-economic position with self-reported dietary attributes and biomarkers in the US population: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1971–1975 to NHANES 1999–2002

Ashima K Kanta1 c1 and Barry I Graubarda2

a1 Department of Family, Nutrition, and Exercise Sciences, Remsen Hall, Room 306E, Queens College of the City University of New York, Flushing, NY 11367, USA

a2 Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, Biostatistics Branch, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA


Objective Recent reports suggest persistence of health disparities related to socio-economic position (SEP). To understand if diet may be a contributor to these trends, we examined secular trends in the association of diet and indicators of SEP from 1971–1975 to 1999–2002.

Design We used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) I (1971–1975), II (1976–1980), III (1988–1994) and 1999–2002 to examine the independent associations of poverty income ratio (PIR) and education with diet and biomarkers of diet and disease in 25–74-year-olds (n = 36 600). We used logistic and linear regression methods to adjust for multiple covariates and survey design to examine these associations.

Results A large PIR differential in the likelihood of reporting a fruit or all five food groups and vitamin C intake, and an education differential in likelihood of obesity and carbohydrate intake, was noted in 1971–1975 but narrowed in 1999–2002 (P < 0.007). The positive association of education with intake of a fruit, vegetable or all five food groups, vitamins A and C, calcium and potassium intake remained unchanged across surveys (P < 0.001). Similarly, the positive association of PIR with the amount of foods and intakes of energy and potassium remained unchanged over three decades (P < 0.001). The education and the PIR differential in energy density, and the PIR differential in the likelihood of obesity, persisted over the period of the four surveys (P < 0.001).

Conclusions Persistence of unfavourable dietary and biomarker profiles in Americans with low income and education suggests continued need for improvement in the quality of diets of these high-risk groups.

(Received October 27 2005)

(Accepted April 03 2006)


c1 *Corresponding author: Email


Preliminary results were presented at Experimental Biology 2005 held in San Diego, CA, USA on 2–6 April 2005.