Eating Motivations Depend On Cultural Context
The dietary pattern, common among Westerners, often includes eating food high in fats, added sugar and highly processed ingredients. This, together with other unhealthy habits, such as smoking and a lack of physical activity, is often reported to be among the key risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer – notorious human-killing diseases. In fact, such non-communicable diseases are behind 71% of all human deaths globally. A large group of researchers from 16 countries decided to carry out a longitudinal study, where nearly 12,000 participants were questioned. The team’s goal was to study if and how sociodemographic factors influence eating motivations.
Besides regular questionnaires, the researchers also made use of artificial neural networks – mathematical systems that imitate how information is processed in our brains. The networks add predictive capacity and were used to rate 49 statements presented in the survey, which were grouped into six categories:
- economic and availability,
- social and cultural,
- marketing and commercial,
- environmental and political motivations.
Among the participants, 71% were female, two-thirds of all had completed a university degree, and about half did not study or work with the specific topics addressed in the questionnaire.
In terms of health motivations, the results show the strongest correlation with age, where older people tend to be more concerned with health issues. Emotional motivations were not strongly pronounced in any of the groups, but were nonetheless significantly higher in young adults. Economic and availability motivations were also more influential in young adults and the elderly. Neither social and cultural nor marketing and commercial motivations were significant enough to determine food choices. Finally, environmental and political motivations were shown to be important factors, most particularly influencing the way people aged over 50 years eat.
When it comes to differences between the two genders, health was the biggest motivator in women, followed by environmental and political concerns. The authors note that other studies show that women are more inclined to buy environment-friendly foods and adopt health-promoting behaviors, compared to men. The differences were not statistically significant for the economic and availability or the marketing and commercial motivations, though. Interestingly, marital status correlated with eating motivations, too: widowed respondents were influenced more by health, and environmental and political motivations. Meanwhile, single people showed the lowest influence.
The differences across survey participant countries were not as straight cut: while some countries showed, for instance, high health determinant values (e.g. Portugal or Lithuania), others reveal an opposite trend (e.g. Netherlands or the U.S.). A similarly wide range of effects was found with emotional motivations, too. However, environmental and political motivations were seemingly important when deciding what to eat across the board, particularly for participants from Portugal and Italy.
Yet another determining factor was respondents’ living environment. People from urban areas are most influenced by health motivations, followed closely by those living in rural areas. The other important factors for city dwellers are emotional and environmental and political motivations. Marketing and commercial determinants were pronounced in people with the lowest level of education. Meanwhile, environmental and political motivations are also valued more by people with a job related to health, but this is not true for people from food or agriculture sectors.
The researchers were able to identify some trends via neural network modeling:
- the strongest positive factor determining health motivations was age,
- for emotional motivations, it was the living environment,
- for economic and availability motivations – gender,
- country revealed a high positive influence for the social and cultural, for environmental and political, and for marketing and commercial motivations.
Animal advocates should pay attention to findings of studies such as this one, as it links sociodemographics (i.e. age, marital status, country, living environment, level of education or professional area) and eating motivations. It may very well help hone our outreach efforts to know what to expect when it comes to how different target groups may react to information presented in various ways.