by Ann Taylor
Food as Medicine and Food First are easy to say, much less easy to implement, and for many natural health practitioners, working to change eating habits is too hard. It can be much easier to make money prescribing supplements to those who can afford them.
Scott (2017) describes the interplay of factors that influence Food Choice Behaviour that is not easily changed, even when people face serious health issues. Here is a summary of what she says (and some of my commentary) – and yes, these factors and more do frustrate the best of efforts to help clients make healthy dietary changes.
Factors that influence food choice behaviour are a complex interplay of background variables that limit food choice and which cannot easily be changed or manipulated, and variables that relate to the appeal of food.
She refers to the background variables being:
· Geographic location of the consumer (access issue)
· Socioeconomic i.e. income and lifestyle of consumer (affordability and education)
· Gender (apparently females are more influenced by taste preferences than males)
· Availability of seasonal and locally available food or imported food and a retailer’s preference for stocking certain foods
· Cultural preferences and habits e.g. Asian preference for familiar food, rather than having an adventurous palate for different taste experiences and a willingness to adopt foods from other cultures (which keep reality food shows on our TV’s);
while appeal of food is influenced by:
· ethics, religion and morals, that might create a preference, for example, for choosing not to eat meat or only eat organically grown food or locally produced food rather than imported;
· health, social and personal beliefs about which food should be consumed e.g. fresh and homemade rather than processed;
· marketing strategies in food presentation, product placement, product sizing, advertising and labelling of food, which attempt to alter the consumer’s conscious intention;
· knowledge about food and skills in shopping, food preparation and food storage, which may alter the appeal for fresh or processed convenience food depending on the consumers willingness or capacity to cook at home;
· emotional attachments to food;
· personal preferences for flavours, textures and aromas;
· intention in eating a food e.g. wanting to experience a particular flavour, which may be a craving for a certain food;
· habits and rituals, such as eating certain foods for breakfast or eating the same food on a particular day, perhaps in a social setting (pizza nights with friends?)
· previous positive or negative experience of eating certain foods – perhaps an allergic reaction or other adverse response e.g. symptoms of a food intolerance
· convenience, which may simply be a habit or a response to the “proximity effect”, requiring little effort to make a food choice.
There’s also the influence of nutritional awareness on choices we make; age related changes (e.g. digestive function generally declines with age); one’s health status (consider how diabetes affects what one should eat or not eat); and even personality type.
Living here in Australia, in an urban environment, where supermarkets and farmers markets heave with food, we also are susceptible to the “excess choice effect”: reduced satisfaction with a food when a large range of choices is available and increased satisfaction when choice is limited i.e. less fussy, more appreciative.
Acknowledging the complexity and interplay of these variables, how does one develop strategies to change food choice behaviour when you believe it is in the best interests of a client’s health?
I don’t have easy answers. Respecting cultural habits and preferences and ethical beliefs is very important in having a conversation. And I persist in encouraging people to take opportunities to access the best quality fresh food available. It makes a difference to our taste experience, our pleasure in eating and nutritional value of what we eat. We socialise and connect over shared meals of delicious food. And this social connection is JUST as important for our health and wellbeing.
Scott L, 2017, “Food Choice Behaviour: Why clients are unable to easily change their eating habits”, in Jnl of the ATMS, vol. 23. No.3, Spring 2017, pp136-139.