Objective: Dietary transition, obesity and risky use of alcohol and tobacco are challenges to public health among indigenous peoples. The aim of the article was to explore the role of social position in dietary patterns and expenditures on food and other commodities. Design: Countrywide population health survey. Setting: Greenland. Participants: 2436 Inuit aged 15+ years. Results: Less than half of the expenditures on commodities (43 %) were used to buy nutritious food, and the remaining to buy non-nutritious food (21 %), alcoholic beverages (18 %) and tobacco (18 %). Participants were classified according to five dietary patterns. The cost of a balanced diet and an unhealthy diet was similar, but the cost per 1000 kJ was higher and the energy consumption was lower for the balanced diet. Participants with low social position chose the unhealthy pattern more often than those with high social position (40 % v. 24 %; P < 0·0001), whereas those with high social position more often chose the balanced alternative. Participants with low social position spent less money on the total food basket than those with high social position but more on non-nutritious food, alcohol and tobacco. Conclusions: Cost seems to be less important than other mechanisms in the shaping of social dietary patterns and the use of alcohol and tobacco among the Inuit in Greenland. Rather than increasing the price of non-nutritious food or subsidising nutritious food, socially targeted interventions and public health promotion regarding food choice and prevention of excessive alcohol use and smoking are needed to change the purchase patterns.