Social Determinant of Food Choice

Hunger is the main reason for eating but there are other factors that influence our choice of food which isn’t solely determined by physiological or nutritional needs. There are several determinants that affect our food choice, such as:

  • Biological- hunger, appetite, and taste.
  • Economic- cost, income, and availability.
  • Physical- access, education, skills (cooking), and time.
  • Social determinants could be influenced by culture, family, peers, and meal patterns.
  • Psychological- mood, stress, and guilt.
  • Attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge of food.

I am going to discuss some of the social determinants briefly but focus mainly on the social context (family influences and peers) and social setting (where food is eaten).

Influence of social class and culture

Studies show that class disparities and culture influences has an impact on food consumption and nutritional intake. Poor and minority households have it harder to purchase better selections of food due to economical reasons. Food lacking proper nutrition can lead to poor diets in which the person can become under-nutrient (micronutrients deficiency) or over-nutrient (overweight and obesity). Cultural influences lead to the difference in attaining certain foods and in traditions of preparing meals. This could lead to restrictions such as exclusion of meat and milk from their diet. However, culture influences can change; when a person move to a new country, individual usually pick-up certain food habits of that culture (Masuoka, J., 1945).

Social context

Social influences on food consumption refer to the impact a person or group has on the behavior of others, whether directly (buying food) or indirectly (learned behavior from peer), either consciously (beliefs) or subconsciously. Food choice is influenced by social factors because attitudes and habits develop through interactions with others (Feunekes et al., 1998).

Positive social support can foster better food choices and healthful dietary change. Social support from family and peers was positively associated with improvements in fruit and vegetable consumption (Sorensen et al., 1998a). Social support may enhance health promotion through fostering a sense of belonging and helping people to feel more competent and self-efficacious (Berkman, 1995). For example, Weight Watchers does this, people are in their support groups, have access to mentors, and they are provided with the tools and knowledge to make the proper choices.

Family influence is significant in food decisions. Research shows the shaping of food choices take place in the home. Family can be a source of encouragement in making and sustaining healthy food choices (Anderson, et al., 1998). Do family meals have a positive benefit for children and adolescents with socialization, nutrient, and overall mental health?

Social setting

Majority of food is eaten in the home, but more and more people are eating away from the home environment due to working outside of the home, children and or parent(s) are attending school, or just the accessibility to get food from numerous of restaurants and food vendors. The place where food is eaten could influence the individual’s food choice, particularly what is being offer. The availability of healthy food at home and away from home increases the consumption of such foods. However, access to healthy food options is limited in many work and school environments. Should restaurants change their menu’s and offer better nutritional choices, or they in it for the money due to things not tasting or looking the same as advertised?

 Work cited:

Anderson, A., S., Cox, D., N., McKellar, S., Reynolds, J., Lean MEJ., Mela, DJ., (1998). Take Five, A Nutrition Education Intervention to Increase Fruit and Vegetable Intakes: Impact on Attitudes Towards Dietary Change. British Journal of Nutrition 80, 133 – 140.

Berkman, L., F. (1995). The role of social relations in health promotion. Psychosomatic Medicine, 57, 245 – 254.

Fenekes, GIJ., de Graaf, C., Meyboom S., and van Staveren, WA., (1998). Food choice and fat intake of adolescents and adults: Associations of intakes within social networks. Preventive Medicine 27, 645 – 656.

Masuoka, J., (1945). Changing food habits: The Japanese in Hawaii. American Sociology Review, 10, 759 – 765.

Sorensen, G., Hunt, MK., Cohen N., Stoddard, A., Stein, E., Phillips, FB., Combe, C., Hebert, J., and Palombo, R., (1998a). Worksite and Family Education for Dietary Change: The Treatwell 5-A-Day Program. Health Education Research 13, 577 – 591.

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