Nutrition and social scale: the impact of social differentiation on dietary intake

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

This study takes as its basic problem the understanding of the influence of community structure upon the dietary intake of families. The principal hypothesis is that a group of households having higher social characteristics, in terms of the level of household income, occupation and education, is associated positively, and in terms of household size, is associated negatively, with adequate food intake.

To determine the existence of such relationships, a multi-focused survey, stratifying populations into three strata, and selecting random samples in a two-stage design, was employed. The logic of the design proceeds from the assumption that the strata correspond to three different social changes that have happened to them. These social changes that have occurred in varied ways are the principal uncontrolled factors influencing their social behavior differentially; the other disturbing factors are assumed to have affected them equally.

The results of the study showed that the strata had been essentially different in relevant variables during the survey. By the logic of the design, such hypothesized differences between strata are attributed to the social factors of income, occupation, education, and household size. Against this logical background, food intake was examined to ascertain whether there is a concomitant increase observed in stratum 1. Indeed, higher average food intake, nutrient status, and food expenditures, were observed stratum 1, relative to other strata.

Because of the weakness of the design, further multivariate analysis using multiple regression as the method of study was conducted. The conclusion in this section was the same, such that in areas of households with high level of income, education, occupation, and a small household size, there was also an increase in average food intake, nutrient status, and food costs. In addition, an important insight coming from multivariate analysis is that household size has been found to influence food and nutrient intake most significantly and that household real income has shown to have the strongest influence in food costs only.