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The Gender Divide Starts Over Dinner

WEDNESDAY March 19, 2008 -- In the culinary battle of the sexes, men are decidedly the carnivores while women prefer leaner, greener fare, a new study finds.

Why the difference? Biology may play a role, but "more obvious are cultural influences, which suggest that salads and quiche are dainty; hunks of meat manly," according to Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn.

Besides confirming some well-worn stereotypes, the findings might be of public health benefit, because understanding the differences in eating habits between men and women could help develop strategies to get both sexes to eat healthier diets, experts say.

"We thought it would be interesting to see whether there were any gender differences," lead researcher Beletshachew Shiferaw said in a prepared statement. "To our knowledge, there have been studies in the literature on gender differences in eating habits, but nothing this extensive."

The findings were to be presented Wednesday in Atlanta at the 2008 International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

In the study, Shiferaw's team collected data on almost 15,000 American adults who participated in the Foodborne Disease Active Surveillance Network survey, which ran from May 2006 to April 2007. Participants were queried on the various food they had eaten over the past seven days.

They found that men were more likely than women to eat a wide variety of meat such as poultry, veal, and game. For example, 21 percent of males had eaten ham in the past week vs. 18 percent of women, the survey found.

On the other hand, women were more likely than men to eat vegetables. For example, 35 percent of women reported eating carrots at least once in the past week, compared with 29 percent of men. Thirty-seven percent of women reported eating tomatoes, compared with 32 percent of men. The same difference held for fruits such as strawberries, raspberries and nuts. Women were also more likely to eat eggs and yogurt.

However, there were exceptions to the trend. Men were more likely than women to eat asparagus and brussels sprouts, for example.

Gender also played a role when it came to mealtime risk-taking -- eating items that are known to be more likely to transmit foodborne disease. For example, the survey found that men were more likely to eat rare hamburger or runny eggs. On the other hand, women were more likely than men to eat alfalfa sprouts, which have been linked to illness outbreaks in the past.

"The reason we looked at consumption and risky behaviors was to see if there was a statistically significant difference between men and women, and if there is, this information could be used by health educators to target interventions," Shiferaw said.

Katz believes that all of this might help move people to a more healthful diet.

"The notion that men and women differ systematically, if not altogether consistently, in food preferences has long been known" he said. "The issue was perhaps never captured more pithily than this: 'Real men don't eat quiche.'"

There is value in studying the food choices people commonly make, Katz added.

"Knowing what foods men and women favor helps clarify the work required to move toward dietary patterns more conducive to overall health," he said.

More information

For more information on healthy eating, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Posted: March 2008


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