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Variation in nutrient intakes by ethnicity: results from the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation (SWAN)

Huang, Mei-Hua DrPH1; Schocken, Miriam PhD2; Block, Gladys PhD3; Sowers, MaryFran PhD4; Gold, Ellen PhD5; Sternfeld, Barbara PhD6; Seeman, Teresa PhD1; Greendale, Gail A. MD1


Objective To use food frequency questionnaires to summarize the macro- and micronutrient intakes of women of diverse ethnicity in the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation.

Design The Study of Women's Health Across the Nation is a multisite, multiethnic, community-based, longitudinal study of midlife women at seven geographic locations in the USA. The cohort is made up of participants with African, Caucasian, Chinese, Hispanic, and Japanese ethnic backgrounds. The Block Food Frequency Questionnaire was modified to accommodate ethnic-specific diets and was administered by interview. Descriptive statistics for macro- and micronutrient intakes were calculated, and variation in nutrient intakes by ethnic group was assessed using multivariable models, with Bonferonni correction for multiple comparisons.

Results The crude and energy-adjusted distributions of all 28 nutrients studied differed statistically by ethnicity (p < 0.001). In many cases the magnitude of the variation was small. For example, the difference between the highest and lowest mean energy intakes was approximately 135 kcal (African American vs. Hispanic). Other differences were substantial: the energy-adjusted total fat intake in Chinese women was at least 10% lower than all other ethnic groups except the Japanese women (all pair-wise comparisons;p < 0.01).

Conclusions Knowledge of variation in nutrient intake is critical to the understanding of how diet and health are related. The broad range of nutrient intakes reported by these participants will permit exploration of the associations between diet, menopause, and health and consideration of the role of dietary factors in explaining health-related differences among women of diverse ethnicity.

From the 1Division of Geriatrics, School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA; 2University of California, Los Angeles, Study of Women's Health Across the Nation, Gardena, California, USA; 3Division of Public Health Biology & Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California, USA; 4School of Public Health, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; 5Department of Epidemiology & Preventive Medicine, University of California, Davis, Davis, California, USA; and 6Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, California, USA.

Received September 18, 2001; revised and accepted January 17, 2002.

The Study of Women's Health Across the Nation (SWAN) was funded by the National Institute on Aging (grants U01 AG12495, U01 AG12505, U01 AG12531, U01 AG12535, U01 AG12539, U01 AG12546, U01 AG12553, and U01 AG12554), the National Institute of Nursing Research (grant U01 NR04061), and the Office of Research on Women's Health of the National Institutes of Health. Supplemental funding came from the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development, the National Center on Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and the Office of AIDS Research.

Address reprint requests to Mei-Hua Huang, DrPH, Division of Geriatrics, University of California, Los Angeles, 10945 Le Conte Avenue, Suite 2339, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1687. E-mail:

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.