Our menus reflect our personalities

People with a higher education and sufficient financial resources usually eat more healthily. This is the conclusion of a study conducted as part of the National Research Programme "Healthy Nutrition and Sustainable Food Production" (NRP 69). It is the first time that comprehensive results on the eating habits of the Swiss population have been published.

​Personality and lifestyle play a crucial role in our eating habits. Pedro Marques-Vidal's research group investigated exactly how personal factors affect nutrition as part of the National Research Programme "Healthy Nutrition and Sustainable Food Production" (NRP 69). One of the scientific study's fundamental findings is that education and sufficient financial resources are crucial determinants of whether people follow a healthy diet. "People who have completed higher education usually understand prevention messages better," explains Pedro Marques-Vidal. Equally important are their financial circumstances, because healthy foodstuffs such as fruit, vegetables and fish are comparatively expensive. In contrast, foods containing sugar and fat are often cheaper. Low incomes therefore prevent many people from eating healthily.

Healthy cooking from the south

But there are some exceptions. The study shows that people from southern European countries such as Spain, Portugal and Italy who are living in Switzerland usually eat more healthily, irrespective of their socio-economic status. "Many migrants stick to a Mediterranean diet with lots of fruit, vegetables and fish," states Marques-Vidal. But in time they gradually adapt to Swiss eating patterns and consume more meat, for example. According to doctors at Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV), one of the factors that determines how rapidly groups of migrants adapt is the degree of cultural difference involved. "People from France and Germany adopt Swiss eating habits more quickly than those from China." However, the speed at which they adopt new eating patterns depends not least on how keen they are to integrate.

Couples eat more healthily

The study shows that lifestyle influences eating habits. Smokers, overweight people and those with sedentary jobs often have less healthy eating habits. In contrast, people in partnerships, women and elderly people tend to attach greater importance to a healthy diet. Pedro Marques-Vidal suspects that women and couples often give greater consideration to their family's health when cooking. Another factor is how much time they devote to preparing food. "The more time people take over cooking, the greater attention they pay to what is healthy," he says. "Elderly people are used to preparing meals themselves, unlike many young people, who frequently consume ready meals or takeaway food that is not very nutritionally balanced."

As part of the CoLaus study, researchers surveyed 4,000 people from Lausanne on their eating habits. This is the first time that a nationwide scientific investigation of the effect of lifestyle and other personal factors on eating habits has been conducted in Switzerland. Further research is planned.

P. Marques-Vidal, G. Waeber., P. Vollenweider, M. Bochud, S. Stringhini, I. Guessous (2015) Sociodemographic and Behavioural Determinants of a Healthy Diet in Switzerland. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism online: doi:10.1159/000437393