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Individual and area-level socioeconomic associations with fast food purchasing
  1. Lukar E Thornton1,
  2. Rebecca J Bentley2,
  3. Anne M Kavanagh2
  1. 1Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia
  2. 2Centre for Women's Health, Gender and Society, Melbourne School of Population Health, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Lukar E Thornton, Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Victoria, 3125, Australia; lukar.thornton{at}


Background It has been suggested that those with lower socioeconomic characteristics would be more likely to seek energy-dense food options such as fast food because of cheaper prices; however, to date the evidence has been inconsistent. This study examines both individual- and area-level socioeconomic characteristics and their independent associations with chain-brand fast food purchasing.

Methods Data from the 2003 Victorian Lifestyle and Neighbourhood Environments Study (VicLANES); a multilevel study of 2547 adults from 49 small-areas in Melbourne, Australia, were used. Multilevel multinomial models adjusted for confounders were used to assess associations between individual socioeconomic position (education, occupation and income) and area socioeconomic characteristics in relation to fast food purchasing from five major fast food chains with outcome categories: never, at least monthly and at least weekly. The study finally assessed whether any potential area-level associations were mediated by fast food access.

Results Increased fast food purchasing was independently associated with lower education, being a blue-collar employee and decreased household income. Results for area-level disadvantage were marginally insignificant after adjustment for individual-level characteristics, although they were suggestive that living in an area with greater levels of disadvantage increased an individual's odds of more frequent fast food purchasing. This effect was further attenuated when measures of fast food restaurant access were included in the models.

Conclusion Independent effects of lower individual-level socioeconomic characteristics and more frequent fast food purchasing for home consumption are demonstrated. Although evidence was suggestive of an independent association with area-level disadvantage this did not reach statistical significance.

  • Dietary habits
  • fast food
  • multilevel analysis
  • socioeconomic factors

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  • Funding The VicLANES project was supported by a grant from the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth). LET is currently supported by an Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) capacity building grant (ID 425845) and undertook this analysis as part of his PhD, which was supported by a Melbourne research scholarship (University of Melbourne). RJB is supported by an NHMRC capacity building grant (ID 324724). This paper was undertaken independently of any influence by the funding sources.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval The VicLANES project was approved by the La Trobe University Human Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.