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Sex differences in macronutrient intake and adherence to dietary recommendations: findings from the UK Biobank
  1. Elizabeth Bennett1,2,
  2. Sanne A E Peters1,
  3. Mark Woodward1,3,4
  1. 1 The George Institute for Global Health, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  2. 2 School of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
  3. 3 The George Institute for Global Health, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  4. 4 Department of Epidemiology, John Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Sanne A E Peters; sanne.peters{at}


Objectives To characterise sex differences in macronutrient intakes and adherence to dietary recommendations in the UK Biobank population.

Design Cross-sectional population-based study.

Setting UK Biobank Resource.

Participants 210 106 (52.5% women) individuals with data on dietary behaviour.

Main outcome measures Women-to-men mean differences in nutrient intake in grams and as a percentage of energy and women-to-men ORs in non-adherence, adjusting for age, socioeconomic status and ethnicity.

Results There were sex differences in energy intake and distribution. Men had greater intakes of energy and were less likely to have energy intakes above the estimated average requirement compared with women. Small, but significant, sex differences were found in the intakes of all macronutrients. For all macronutrients, men had greater absolute intakes while women had greater intakes as a percentage of energy. Women were more likely to have intakes that exceeded recommendations for total fat, saturated fat and total sugar. Men were less likely to achieve the minimum recommended intakes for protein, polyunsaturated fat and total carbohydrate. Over 95% of men and women were non-adherent to fibre recommendations. Sex differences in dietary intakes were moderated by age and to some extent by socioeconomic status.

Conclusions There are significant sex differences in adherence to dietary recommendations, particularly for sugar. However, given the increased focus on food groups and dietary patterns for nutritional policy, these differences alone may not be sufficient for policy and health promotion. Future studies that are able to explore the sex differences in intakes of different food groups that are risk factors for diet-related diseases are warranted to improve the current understanding of the differential impact of diet on health in women and men.

  • epidemiology
  • risk management

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  • Contributors EB performed statistical analyses and wrote the first draft of the article. MW and SAEP conceived the research and produced the final version of the article.

  • Funding SAEP is supported by a UK Medical Research Council Skills Development Fellowship (MR/P014550/1). MW is supported by an Australian National Health and Medical Council Principal Research Fellowship.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Ethics approval UK Biobank has obtained Research Tissue Bank approval from its governing research ethics committee, as recommended by the National Research Ethics Service. No separate ethics approval was required. Permission to use the UK Biobank Resource was approved by the Access Sub-Committee of the UK Biobank Board.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement The UK Biobank holds the data used in this article.