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Food poverty is intrinsically linked to inadequate income, poor dietary and lifestyle habits, and health inequalities, placing the “food poor” at higher risk of developing chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Much of the evidence linking food poverty and poor diet is based on ecological level analysis. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), a diet optimising dietary quality specifically limiting the intake salt, fats and sugars, has been shown experimentally to be associated with improved health outcomes, specifically hypertension and a DASH dietary score was developed which predicts a decreased risk of cardiovascular endpoints in observational studies.
Our objective was to examine the dietary habits of those who reported experiencing food poverty in relation to a DASH Score as an index of diet quality.
As part of the Survey of Lifestyle Attitudes and Nutrition (SLÁN)2007, 10 364 adults aged 18 years and over were interviewed in their own homes (62% response rate). Dietary habits were assed using a Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ) (n = 9223, response rate 89%). A DASH dietary score (ranging from 9 to 42) was constructed using data from the FFQ based on standardised methods. Higher DASH scores equated to healthier diets.
Overall, 15% of the population could not always afford to buy the foods they wanted to, an indication of having experienced food poverty at least occasionally. The food poor had significantly worse dietary habits than the non-food poor: they were more likely to add salt to food, consume fried food frequently, and to have low DASH scores. Relative to those who had not experienced food poverty, the food poor had almost twice the odds of having a DASH score in the lowest two DASH Score quintiles (OR 1.7, 95% CI 1.44 to 1.88).
Food poverty is negatively associated with dietary quality. Our results provide further evidence that those experiencing food poverty have staple diets that are high in salt, fats and sugars, thereby contributing to poor health outcomes among the most disadvantaged in our society.