The link between diet and socioeconomic environments

Customer paying bill by cash at open air market

Guy FagherazziAurelie AffretGuy Fagherazzi is the Principal Investigator and Aurelie Affret is a PhD student on a project that we fund on the link between diet, the socioeconomic environment and cancer risk.

Our aims

Many factors influence our diet habits and the type of foods we eat, which in turn affects our cancer risk. Some factors at an individual level, such as money and time availability, education or family traditions are strongly suspected to be associated with the way we eat. Other contextual factors are also thought to be associated with the quality of our diet, such as access to grocery shops, transportation and neighbourhood safety.

All of these individual and contextual factors are strongly linked and altogether they represent the socioeconomic environment. However, so far the influence of socioeconomic environment on diet habits has mostly been studied by considering one single factor – usually the level of education or income taxes.

Therefore, in order to better understand the complex relationships between diet and socioeconomic environment, the main objective of our research project was to study several different individual and contextual socioeconomic factors associated with a healthy diet.

Our results so far

The research looked at data from 73,031 French women. An interesting finding was that women’s level of education did not have the same impact on diet habits depending on where the women lived. While there was no clear relationship between diet and level of education in most areas, we observed that women with no high school diploma who lived in the south of France were more likely to follow a healthy diet than women with a higher level of education.

Our results so far are in line with the fact that in some countries, lower social classes tend to eat in a healthier manner than higher social classes do in regions where healthy products are more frequently available (which is the case for the South of France).

We also found that women with higher income, professionally active women, women living in urban areas, women in a couple or with no children were more likely to follow a healthy diet.

Making an impact

We have confirmed that socioeconomic environment is a complex network, made up of individual and contextual factors, which are strongly linked with diet. Our results highlight the need to study several factors at the same time, in order to better capture the many dimensions of socioeconomic status.

Based on our findings, we suggest that future public health and nutritional prevention strategies are designed according to the individual’s socioeconomic disadvantage and take into account the inequalities that exist in the access to healthy foods.

The next part of our project is to evaluate how a cancer diagnosis impacts the diet long term, according to the socioeconomic environment. We’re looking forward to seeing some interesting results soon – watch this space!