TUESDAY, March 13 (HealthDay News) -- The foods Americans eat
have a lot to do with factors like race, age and where they live,
and can be categorized into five distinct dietary patterns,
according to a new study.
Researchers analyzed food questionnaires from a large group of
black and white adults aged 45 and older in the continental United
States, with a focus on southeastern states.
The strongest association they found was that black people were
more likely than whites to have "southern" diets, which are rich in
fried foods, processed meats and sweetened drinks.
"Nobody has defined dietary patterns in a population like this," said Suzanne Judd, assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and study co-author.
The findings are slated for Tuesday presentation at the American
Heart Association meeting in San Diego.
The southern diet probably emerged as a clear trend because the
study included so many participants from the Southeast, Judd
In addition to the southern diet, the authors identified four
other eating patterns.
The "traditional" pattern was characterized by a mixed diet of
mostly takeout and prepared foods.
A "healthy" diet was mostly made up of fruits, veggies and
"Sweets" consisted largely of sweet snacks and desserts.
An "alcohol" pattern, which included salads, proteins (and
alcohol), was associated with younger ages and higher socioeconomic
The researchers limited their study to black and white adults
because the largest difference in stroke risk exists between these
two racial groups. Previous research has found that black people
are three times more likely to have a stroke than their white
counterparts at 45 years of age, although the gap in risk shrinks
in older adults.
People from the Southeast region, known as the "stroke belt,"
are also more likely to suffer a stroke.
The current study involved nearly 22,000 adults, half of whom
lived in the Southeast, representing a range of income and
Participants filled out a food frequency questionnaire about
their diet over the past year. From these responses, the
researchers grouped similar foods into categories, then looked at
how food groups were consumed together to define dietary patterns.
Participants each received a score reflecting how closely their
diet resembled each pattern.
The researchers identified a number of trends, notably that
younger age groups (45-54 years) were more likely than older adults
to have a traditional diet, which features convenient, ready-to-eat
And while black participants were associated with a southern
diet, white people were more likely to have a traditional or sweet
diet. These diet differences could not be explained by income and
education differences alone, Judd said, adding that culture and
upbringing probably play a part in eating habits.
Previous research suggests that one of the major culprits for
increased stroke risk among black people is high blood pressure.
The southern diet, and in particular sodium intake, probably has an
effect on stroke risk by driving up blood pressure, although it may
have other important effects, such as on obesity, Judd said.
"Not maintaining a healthy weight leads to so many problems in terms of how well blood vessels function," she explained.
Although studies have explored the intake of individual
nutrients, such as sodium and calcium as well as fats and fiber,
among black and white people, there is a less clear understanding
of how overall diet differs between these groups.
Commenting on the study, Connie Diekman, director of university
nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, said, "We have to
start looking at dietary patterns because it is about the whole of
what we do; it is not single nutrients or single foods that are the
cause or the blame for disease."
When it comes to helping people change their eating habits,
dietary patterns are also more useful than labeling foods as "good"
and "bad," Diekman added.
The next step is to look at the relationship between these
dietary patterns and health, in particular stroke risk. "I'll be
surprised if we don't see an association," Judd said.
If further research shows an association, it would provide some
foods to target, similar to how the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention is working to reduce sodium in the food
supply, Judd said.
"Even from just what is here [in this study], it certainly will add to the body of evidence that's encouraging the change in sodium, portions, and the increased need for education around nutrition and physical activity," Diekman said.
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data
and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in
a peer-reviewed journal.
There's more on healthy eating at the
U.S. Department of
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