Trends in Food Habits and Their Relation to Socioeconomic Status among Nordic Adolescents 2001/2002-2009/2010

Anne-Siri Fismen, Otto Robert Frans Smith, Torbjørn Torsheim, Mette Rasmussen, Trine Pedersen Pagh, Lilly Augustine, Kristiina Ojala, Oddrun Samdal
PloS One 2016, 11 (2): e0148541

BACKGROUND: In the Nordic countries, substantial policy and intervention efforts have been made to increase adolescents' consumption of fruit and vegetables and to reduce their intake of sweets and soft drinks. Some initiatives have been formulated in a Nordic collaboration and implemented at national level. In recent years, social inequalities in food habits have been attracted particular governmental interest and several initiatives addressing the socioeconomic gradient in food habits have been highlighted. However, few internationally published studies have evaluated how trends in adolescents' food habits develop in the context of Nordic nutrition policy, or have compared differences between the Nordic countries.

METHODS: The study was based on Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish cross-sectional data from the international Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) study, collected via three nationally representative and comparable questionnaire surveys in 2001/2002, 2005/2006 and 2009/2010. Food habits were identified by students' consumption of fruit, vegetables, sweets and sugar sweetened soft drink. Socioeconomic status (SES) was measured with the Family Affluence Scale (FAS). Multilevel logistic regression was used to analyze the data.

RESULTS: Trends in fruit consumption developed differently across countries, characterized by an increase in Denmark and Norway and more stable trends in Sweden and Finland. Vegetable consumption increased particularly in Denmark and to a lesser extent in Norway, whereas Sweden and Finland displayed stable trends. Decreased trends were observed for sweet and soft drink consumption and were similar in Norway, Sweden and Finland. Sweet consumption decreased across all survey years, whereas soft drink consumption decreased between 2001/2002-2005/2006 and was stable thereafter. Denmark displayed an increase between 2001/2002-2005/2006 followed by a similar decrease between 2005/2006-2009/2010 for both sweet and soft drink consumption. Socioeconomic inequalities in fruit and vegetable consumption were observed in all countries, with no cross-country differences, and no changes over time. Small but not significant cross-country variation was identified for SES inequalities in sweet consumption. Reduced SES inequalities were observed in Sweden between 2005/2006 and 2009/2010. SES was not associated with soft drink consumption in this study population, with the exception of Denmark for the survey year 2009/2010.

CONCLUSION: Different trends resulted in increased country differences in food habits during the time of observations. In survey year 2009/2010, Danish students reported a higher intake of fruit and vegetable consumption than their counterparts in the other Nordic countries. Finnish students reported the lowest frequency of sweets and soft drink consumption. Despite the positive dietary trends documented in the present study, the majority of Nordic adolescents are far from meeting national dietary recommendations. Our findings underline the need for more comprehensive initiatives targeting young people's food habits as well as a more deliberate and focused action to close gaps in social inequalities that affect food choices.

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