Vol.5, No.8A3, 23-28 (2013) Health
Diversity of eating patterns and obesity in older
adults—A new challenge
Patricia Moraes Ferreira1, Silvia Justina Papini2, José Eduardo Corrente3*
1PhD Student, Department of Public Health, School of Medicine, São Paulo, Brazil
2Nursing Department, School of Medicine, São Paulo, Brazil
3Biostatistics Department, Bioscience Institute, São Paulo, Brazil;
*Corresponding Author: jecorren@ibb.unesp.br
Received 19 June 2013; revised 19 July 2013; accepted 29 July 2013
Copyright © 2013 Patricia Moraes Ferreira et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution
License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
The increase in the variety of food choices in-
fluences the eating patterns of older adults,
which is in turn increases the occurrence of
obesity. This study aimed at identifying eating
patterns and their association with obesity in a
represent ati ve sample of older adults living in an
urban area and registered in the basic health
unit in the city of Botucatu, São Paulo, Brazil.
This is a cross-sectional study and data collec-
tion took place from March to June of 2011
through the application of a validated food fre-
quency questionnaire for older adults, a socio-
demographic survey and an anthropo metric eva-
luation. Eating patterns were identified through
principal component analysis. Scores of indi-
vidual consumption were divided in tertiles,
characterizing as low, moderate or high adhe-
rence of the individuals to each pattern. Logistic
regression models were fitted for the outcomes
“general obesity” and “abdominal obesity” and
the tertiles of consumption adjusting by socio-
demographic variables. Six eating patterns were
identified: Healthy foods, Snacks and weekend
meals, Fruits, Light and whole foods, Mild diet
and Traditional diet. It was found that the ad-
herence to healthy foods is protective against
obesity as well as adherence of snacks and
weekend meals are risk of obesity. Eating pat-
terns and their recognized influence on obesity
comprise an issue that deserves continuous
attention in order to evaluate collectively the
eating profile, and develop specific nutritional
guidelines for older adults.
Keywords: Eating Patterns; General Obesity;
Older Adults
In Brazil, the most recent research regarding the nutri-
tional state of the population showed that, between 1974
and 2009, the prevalence of older individuals of below
average weight decreased, whereas the number of older
individuals who are overweight or obese has increased
steadily [1]. The rise in the number of obese older adults
may be associated with changes in nutrition in this age
group at a time when an increased consumption of foods
with high energy density and a reduction in the ingestion
of foods rich in fiber, and nutrients are becoming more
prevalent in society [2].
The importance of eating behaviors as a risk factor for
overweight and obesity is already well known [3,4]. The
relationship between eating and nutritional status in the
context of aging is frequently associated with nutritional
problems [5] and boredom with eating [6,7], since
physiological, economic and psychosocial factors may
limit the consumption of food [7-9]. Nevertheless, it may
be assumed that the older population, in addition to being
vulnerable, is also a heterogeneous group in terms of
many different aspects, including eating [9]. Due to the
increase in the variety of food choices offered by the
food industry and commerce, diversity in eating patterns
is emerging in the same population group.
In terms of epidemiology, the use of empirical analy-
ses of derivative standards may reflect the true eating
behaviors of a population and allow for improved plan-
ning and effective proposals to promote healthy eating
habits [10]. Therefore, from the hypothesis that the eat-
ing habits of older adults are diversifying and exerting a
strong influence on the increased prevalence of obesity,
this study aimed at identifying eating patterns of the older
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN A CCESS
P. M. Ferreira et al. / Health 5 (2013) 23-28
people and investigating their association with obesity.
2.1. Study Population and Data Collection
The present study was carried out in the city of Botu-
catu, São Paulo, Brazil, which was chosen, in part, due to
the development of a growing number of studies on
population aging and to its high prevalence of older
adults (13.35%) [11], higher than the mean in the state
(11.6%) and in the country (10.8%) [12]. It is an epide-
miological cross-sectional study, with a representative
sample of individuals aged 60 years or older, living in the
urban area and registered in the basic health unit of the
A validated food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) with
71 food items was provided to the participants [13]. The
sample size was calculated by considering five times the
number of items present in the FFQ, according to the
formula: if k > 15 n = 5 × k where k = number of items
of the FFQ [14], yielding a total of 355 individuals, who
were stratified among the sixteen basic health units in the
municipality. For the association study between general
obesity and the identified dietary patterns, we performed
a posteriori sample size calculation.
Data collection took place at households and at the ba-
sic health units from March to June of 2011. Also it was
applied a sociodemographic and lifestyle identification
questionnaire and anthropometric evaluation was made.
The weight it was measured using a calibrated portable
digital electronic scale (TANITA® TM), portable stadi-
ometer (ALTUREXATA®TM) for height. The waist cir-
cumference measurement was performed using inelastic
tape with 1 mm precision. Failing to perform the meas-
urement of height (older adults stooped posture), these
values were estimated from the measurement of the knee
based on the validated techniques [15], and waist cir-
cumference according to the techniques recommended
by the World Health Organization [16].
2.2. Ethical Approval
The study was approved by the Committee of Ethics in
Research of the Botucatu Medical School—São Paulo
State University (UNESP).
2.3. Data Analysis
Obesity was evaluated as either “general obesity” or
“abdominal obesity”. In order to define general obesity,
the authors used the Body Mass Index (BMI), with obe-
sity defined as 30 kg/m2; for abdominal obesity, a waist
Circumference (WC) 88 cm for women and 102 cm
for men were used as the defining criteria. Both criteria
are in agreement with recommendations from the World
Health Organization [16]. Other variables analyzed were:
consumption of alcoholic beverages, gender, education,
marital status and physical activity. The criteria estab-
lished by VIGITEL 2010 were used for the categoriza-
tion of physical activity [17].
The information regarding food consumption obtained
from the Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ) was ana-
lyzed and interpreted for the identification of eating pat-
terns, using the technique of exploratory factor analysis
(principal component analysis—PCA). The applicability
of the factor analysis was confirmed by the PCA method
with varimax rotation, through Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin
(KMO) and Bartlett’s tests of sphericity. Six factors were
extracted considering only the items with a factor load
greater than 0.3. Eating patterns were determined ac-
cording to the nutritional and functional characteristics of
the food items for each factor.
Following the factor analysis, consumption scores
were calculated in order to obtain participants’ adherence,
which were divided into tertiles classified as low (1st
tertile), moderate (2nd tertile) and high (3rd tertile) com-
pliance. Logistic regression models were fitted consider-
ing “general” and “abdominal” obesity as response vari-
ables and adherence to the eating patterns (low, moderate
and high) as explanatory variables adjusted for possible
confounding effects. All analyses were performed using
the SAS (Statistical Analysis System) program for Win-
dows (v. 9.2). For all tests, a significance level of 5% (or
the corresponding p-value) was considered.
The study sample consisted of 163 male (45.9%) and
192 female individuals (54.1%), which is close to the
Brazil 2010 census results, in which 42.7% were men
and 57.3% were women [18], indicating that this is a
representative sample of the city’s population.
Age varied between 60 and 92 years, with a mean of
69.54 years old (standard deviation = 7.73 years old);
this population has a mean per capita family income of
1.76 minimum wages (approximately 500 US dollars).
The prevalence of general obesity was 15.95% in men
and 30.20% in women, while the prevalence of abdomi-
nal obesity was much higher: 42.94% in men and
74.47% in women.
The patterns identified through factor analysis were:
1) Healthy foods: raw endive/chicory; beetroot/chay-
ote/zucchini; broccoli/cauliflower/cabbage; cooked en-
dive/kale; carrots; extra virgin olive oil; tomatoes; lettuce;
fish; oats.
2) Snacks and weekend meals: processed meat; moz-
zarella/cheddar cheese; pizza/pancakes; baked snacks;
bacon/jerky; hamburger/chicken nuggets/meatballs; fried
snacks; regular butter; regular soda; bread rolls; pasta
with meat; cooked potatoes with mayonnaise; desserts/
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN A CCESS
P. M. Ferreira et al. / Health 5 (2013) 23-28
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN A CCESS
candies; fried potatoes/manioc.
3) Fruits: avocado; guava; papaya; apple/pears; melon/
watermelon; oranges/tangerines/pineapples; bananas.
4) Light and whole food: low-fat/non-fat milk; whole
wheat bread; natural juice without added sugar; oats; ex-
tra virgin olive oil.
5) Mild diet: cooked potatoes/manioc; soup; bread
rolls; whole milk; carrots; polenta.
6) Traditional diet: white rice; beans; lettuce; toma-
Until now, there have been few studies that have spe-
cifically included older adults and that have used statis-
tical models to identify eating patterns empirically [19-
21]. In Brazil, these statistical analyses have not still in-
cluded samples confined to older adults.
The knowledge of specific eating behaviors of older
adults is essential, since they comprise a group that is
highly vulnerable to nutritional problems, one in which
repercussions is much more severe than in other stages of
life [9].
Through the habits identified, it was possible to ob-
serve the existence of different consumption conditions
occurring in the eating culture of this population. Con-
trary to what was observed a few years ago in Brazil, the
older population does not seem to be limiting itself to the
consumption of a boredom diet, generally characterized
by the predominance of traditional food items of Brazil-
ian culture, such as rice and beans. The older adults in
this study also showed a preference for other eating pat-
terns which may reflect the local culture (characterized
by the consumption of pasta, cooked potatoes with may-
onnaise and desserts on the weekends), the Western diet
(characterized by a high concentration of carbohydrates
and fat), special diets (characterized by a consumption of
healthier food items, such as diet/light foods), and diets
consumed by individuals of a more advanced age (char-
acterized by a consumption of mild diet, with cooked and
easily digested food items).
It was observed that the high compliance with Stan-
dard 1—Healthy foods had an inverse and significant
relationship to general obesity, constituting a protective
factor. In other words, individuals showing high compli-
ance with this standard decreased their chance of devel-
oping general obesity by 63.3% (Table 1).
Table 1. Association between eating patterns and general obesity in older adults, according to the variables of interest (adjusted
model*), Botucatu, São Paulo, Brazil, 2011.
Variables Categories Estimate Standard errorp-value OR (IC 95%)**
High compliance 0.6071 0.2134 0.0044 0.367 (0.179 - 0.752)
Moderate compliance 0.2112 0.1932 0.2742 0.831 (0.434 - 1.592) 1-Healthy foods
Low compliance 0.0 - - 1.0
High compliance 0.00364 0.2165 0.9866 1.104 (0.514 - 2.370)
Moderate compliance 0.1059 0.1964 0.5897 1.231(0.612 - 2.478)
2-Snacks and weekend
Low compliance 0.0 - - 1.0
High compliance 0.3048 0.2048 0.1367 1.334 (0.660 - 2.698)
Moderate compliance 0.3211 0.2133 0.1323 0.714 (0.343 - 1.484) 3-Fruits
Low compliance 0.0 - - 1.0
High compliance 0.1981 0.2018 0.3263 1.485 (0.728 - 3.029)
Moderate compliance 0.00053 0.2050 0.9979 1.218 (0.591 - 2.510)
4-Light and whole foods
Low compliance 0.0 - - 1.0
High compliance 0.0904 0.2069 0.6621 0.795 (0.393 - 1.610)
Moderate compliance 0.0480 0.1987 0.8090 0.830 (0.422 - 1.634)
5-Mild diet
Low compliance 0.0 - - 1.0
High compliance 0.3991 0.2113 0.0589 0.625 (0.307 - 1.270)
Moderate compliance 0.3275 0.1931 0.0899 1.292 (0.676 - 2.467)
6-Traditional diet
Low compliance 0.0 - - 1.0
Age - 0.0591 0.0236 0.0122 0.943 (0.900 - 0.987)
Partner 0.3910 0.1667 0.0190 2.186 (1.137 - 4.202)
Marital Status No partner 0.0 - - 1.0
Consumption 0.2046 0.1678 0.2225 1.506 (0.780 - 2.906)
Alcohol consumption No consumption 0.0 - - 1.0
*Logistic model with adjustment for gender, per capita family income, education and physical activity; obtained from full model, keeping all variables of inter-
st. **OR = Adjusted odds ratio. e
P. M. Ferreira et al. / Health 5 (2013) 23-28
Regarding abdominal obesity, it was observed that in-
dividuals who comply moderately with Standard 1—
Healthy foods decrease their risk of developing abdomi-
nal obesity by 41.2%. On the other hand, moderate com-
pliance with Standard 2—Snacks and weekend meals
increased 2.21 times the chance of developing abdominal
obesity (Table 2).
These results agree with the recommendations, since
Standard 1—Healthy foods has a high concentration of
protective elements for weight gain, while Standard 2—
Snacks and weekend meals has a high concentration of
fat and simple carbohydrates which, if ingested exces-
sively, can influence the development of obesity. Similar
eating patterns and results have been found in other
studies [22,23]. A standard termed “Healthy”, described
by Americans in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of
Aging, was associated with lower gains in body mass
index and waist circumference [22]. A standard termed
“Meat and French Fries”, identified in Puerto Rican
adults and older adults, was associated with higher meas-
ures of waist circumference [23]. This similarity between
studies shows the consistency of the empirical methods
used to identify eating patterns.
The other identified eating patterns did not show a
significant association with obesity.
Some limitations of this study, which are common to
most studies regarding food consumption, must be con-
sidered. The first one refers to the cross-sectional design,
which does not allow for the establishment of a causal
relationship between risk factors and health outcomes.
However, since the purpose was to describe eating be-
haviors in order to guide immediate actions of health
promotion, the priority was not to determine whether the
relationship between food consumption and negative
health outcomes is indeed casual.
The influence of reverse causality in studies of obesity
is broadly recognized [24,25], since individuals may ei-
ther overestimate or underestimate the consumption of
certain food items. On the other hand, in this study the
results of associations between eating patterns and obe-
sity assumed the expected direction, and the control of
covariates was performed, increasing the probability
Table 2. Association between eating patterns and abdominal obesity in older adults, according to the variables of interest (adjusted
model*), Botucatu, São Paulo, Brazil, 2011.
Variables Categories Estimate Standard errorp-value OR (IC 95%)**
High compliance 0.2062 0.1781 0.2469 1.045 (0.570 - 1.914)
Moderate compliance 0.3686 0.1746 0.0348 0.588 (0.325 - 1.064)
1-Healthy foods
Low compliance 0.0 - - 1.0
High compliance 0.0935 0.1824 0.6082 1.293 (0.677 - 2.469)
Moderate compliance 0.4436 0.1808 0.0141 2.212 (1.164 - 4.203)
2-Snacks and weekend
Low compliance 0.0 - - 1.0
High compliance 0.0981 0.1818 0.5895 1.455 (0.779 - 2.716)
Moderate compliance 0.1788 0.1793 0.3187 1.577 (0.852 - 2.920) 3-Fruits
Low compliance 0.0 - - 1.0
High compliance 0.1306 0.1818 0.4726 1.045 (0.562 - 1.943)
Moderate compliance 0.2172 0.1838 0.2373 0.738 (0.394 - 1.382) 4-Light and whole foods
Low compliance 0.0 - - 1.0
High compliance 0.1292 0.1805 0.4740 1.047 (0.565 - 1.939)
Moderate compliance 0.2130 0.1761 0.2265 0.743 (0.407 - 1.357) 5-Mild diet
Low compliance 0.0 - - 1.0
High compliance 0.2674 0.1755 0.1276 0.593 (0.325 - 1.081)
Moderate compliance 0.0115 0.1763 0.9478 0.783 (0.428 - 1.433) 6-Traditional diet
Low compliance 0.0 - - 1.0
Age - 0.0120 0.0190 0.5279 0.988 (0.952 - 1.026)
Partner 0.1793 0.1447 0.2152 1.431 (0.812 - 2.524)
Marital status No partner 0.0 - - 1.0
Consumption 0.1373 0.1464 0.3482 1.316 (0.741 - 2.336)
Alcohol consumption No consumption 0.0 - - 1.0
*Logistic model with adjustment for gender, per capita family income, education and physical activity; obtained from full model, keeping all variables of inter-
est. **OR = Adjusted odds ratio.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN A CCESS
P. M. Ferreira et al. / Health 5 (2013) 23-28 27
that the associations found are valid.
In order to reduce the bias of memory, the assistance
of caregivers was permitted to answer the questionnaires,
and the questions from the Food Frequency Question-
naire (FFQ) referred only to frequency of consumption,
and did not include the portions consumed. Furthermore,
the apparent effect of report errors in the FFQ is fre-
quently discussed, since people are inclined to overesti-
mate, for instance, their consumption of vegetables [25].
However, a study observed that eating patterns extracted
from the FFQ are comparable to those obtained from the
24 h recall (the instrument which is considered to be the
standard) [26].
Since the eating patterns are derived empirically, it is
possible that other combinations of food items exist.
Nevertheless, in the present study, the authors chose the
best factor solution and verified the quality of interpreta-
tion of the eating standards using statistical criteria, de-
fining which factor solution was closer to the combina-
tion of food items observed among the sample individu-
The authors concluded that there was a diversity of
eating patterns within a population of older adults, and
this current eating behavior was found to be a factor in-
dependently associated with obesity.
The results obtained support the premise that the eat-
ing standards and their recognized influence on obesity
are issues that deserve continuing attention in order to
evaluate collectively the eating profile of the older popu-
lation and orientate efforts for the development of spe-
cific nutritional guidelines for the older population.
The authors would like to thank to São Paulo Foundation Research
(FAPESP-Process no. 2010/12366-1) and National Counsel of Techno-
logical and Scientific Development (CNPq Process no. 301197/2011-3)
for the financial support.
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