During the post-communist transition period, political, economic, and social changes affected the lifestyles of the Lithuanian population, including their nutritional habits. However, people of lower socio-economic position were more vulnerable to these changes. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the trends in selected food habits of the Lithuanian adult population by their level of education and place of residence from 1994 to 2010.
The data were obtained from nine biannual cross-sectional postal surveys of Lithuanian health behaviours, beginning in 1994. Each survey used a randomly selected nationally representative sample of 3000 inhabitants aged 20-64 drawn from the population register. In total, 7358 men and 9796 women participated in these surveys. Questions about food consumption were included within all health behaviour questionnaires.
During the transition period, use of vegetable oil in cooking and the frequency of consumption of fresh vegetables increased, use of butter on bread decreased, and the proportion of women drinking high-fat milk declined. Lithuanians with higher education reported more frequent use of vegetable oil in cooking as well as daily consumption of fresh vegetables than those with a lower level of education. Consumption of high-fat milk was inversely associated with educational background. In addition, the proportion of persons spreading butter on bread increased with higher education level. The greatest urban-rural difference was observed in high-fat milk consumption. The increase in the use of vegetable oil in cooking, and the reduction of spreading butter on bread was more evident among less educated and rural inhabitants. Meanwhile, a greater proportion of the rural population, compared to urban, reduced their use of butter on bread. Daily consumption of fresh vegetables increased most among highly educated Lithuanians.
The data from our study indicate beneficial dietary changes among the Lithuanian adult population. In general, those with a higher level of education had healthier food habits than those with low education. The educational gradient in analyzed food habits, except the use of vegetable oil, enlarged. A higher proportion of the rural population, compared to urban, reduced their usage of butter on bread. However, consumption of high-fat milk was greatest in the rural population. Our data highlight the need for future food and nutrition policies, as well as health promotion programmes, targeting the whole population, particularly those with lower education and living in rural areas.