To describe the food consumption patterns of Italian elderly subjects and the factors associated with different dietary habits.
A total of 847 men and 1465 women aged 65 y or older, living in rural areas in the province of Pavia (Northern Italy) and near Cosenza (Southern Italy) in 1992-1993.
The dietary information was collected by means of a quantitative food-frequency questionnaire, with cluster analysis being used to segregate the subjects on the basis of similarities in their food consumption. A generalised logistic regression model including residence, age, living status, education, physical activity and degree of disability was fitted to assess the factors associated with different food consumption habits.
Six dietary clusters were selected for men and seven for women. The largest cluster for both genders was "small eaters" (46% of men and 51% of women); "big eaters", "light diet" and "alcohol" clusters were also identified for both genders. The men were also grouped into "balanced diet" and "cheese" clusters, and the women into "sweet", "greens" and "butter" clusters.
In addition to the influence of the area of residence--residents in Northern Italy consume greater amounts of animal fats, sugar and alcoholic beverages, and those living in Southern Italy have a greater intake of fruit, vegetables, fish and olive oil--all of the other studied variables predicted the probabilities of falling into a specific dietary cluster.
National Research Council (Italy)--Invecchiamento Project No. 95.01048. PF40.