Factors affecting our food choices
Over the past 20 years, society has certainly changed in terms of the way we eat. Processed foods have become the order of the day and junk food rules our lives. And it’s having a massive impact on our health.
Have you ever sat down to think about how you make the choices you do regarding what food you eat?
Think about it, obesity rates have been increasing worldwide on a scale unprecedented.
In fact, according to Emmanuela Gakidou, from Global Health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, over one-third of the population of the world is now obese. And the problem is affecting third-world countries just as much as it does first-world.
The impact of poor food choices
Studies have shown that in developing countries, obesity rates are skyrocketing. For example, nine out of the 10 most obese countries on the planet are from the Pacific Islands. According to Temo Waqanivalu, part of WHO’s Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases department, in some Pacific Island countries, up to 95% of the adult population is obese.
Why has this happened?
Well, the primary reason is that essentially, diets have changed. Instead of eating traditional foods such as fish, vegetables and fruit, many of the people found on the Pacific Islands now eat a more Westernized diet.
That means processed food, sugary drinks, canned food, flour, white rice and other foods which were never part of their diet.
How do we make food choices?
Clearly, from the examples above, the food choices made by the adult population of the Pacific Islands is a problem. It has also led to a health epidemic, with the number of diabetes cases continuing to rise at an alarming rate.
But how do these people, and us for that matter go about making our food choices? Well, there are a number of factors at play.
1. Biological factors
Let’s take a look at the biological factors that affect our choices when it comes to food.
Of course, hunger plays an important role in the choices we make with food. And much of this is controlled by our central nervous system in terms of creating a balance between the food we take in, how our appetite is stimulated and our levels of hunger.
One of the major factors that affect hunger itself is our level of satiety or that feeling of ‘fullness’. And foods that are lower in energy keep our satiety levels higher for longer. Of the food types, protein gives the most satiety while fat has the least.
- Is it worldwide?
Well, it goes without saying, we tend to eat food that we find palatable. A number of factors play a role in this. These include taste, smell, texture as well as appearance.
- Our senses
While we have already talked about the role taste plays, our other senses also play a part in our food choices. And many of these are present from birth. For example, not liking something bitter but preferring something sweet.
2. Economic factors
Economic factors also determine what foods we choose.
To the vast majority of the inhabitants of the world, the cost of food is one of the biggest factors in determining what it is they eat.
Interestingly, while people from lower-income groups tend to eat an unbalanced diet with little fruit and vegetable intake, those from higher-income groups do not necessarily eat more healthy food options. In fact, they have access to a far larger range of unhealthy foods.
3. Social factors
Social and cultural factors play a critical role in our food choices as well. For example, from a cultural aspect, we can look at the types of foods traditionally eaten, the way they are prepared and if certain food types are off-limits from a cultural standpoint.
Other aspects that fall under social factors include how people are influenced by their peers. Take a student for example, who despite wanting to eat healthily, sees all their friends eating fast foods and eventually joins in. Even the venue where we eat our food can influence our overall choices.
4. Psychological factors
Ever make bad food choices based on your mood or stress level? It happens all the time, especially if we see food as something, we can use to make us feel happy, even for a brief moment.
And it’s a factor that many obese people cite as the reason why they overeat. Simply put, food improves their mood. Stress also plays a massive part in our food choices. For example, someone under pressure and trying to hit a deadline is going to find something simple and quick to eat so they can get back to the task at hand. This is often an unhealthy option.
5. Cost factors
For most of the world’s population, the cost of food is one of the critical factors when it comes to food choices. And sadly, processed food is often cheap. While we should be eating products that are free-range, as an example, these are out of most people’s grasp when it comes to a cost perspective.
6. Time factors
In our rushed world, time is of the essence. And that plays a role in our food choices. For example, think of a family where both parents work. This leaves little time for either of them to find an hour or two to prepare a fresh, healthy dinner
That’s why we have seen the rise in consumption of things like ready-made meals, those meals that just need to be warmed up in a microwave, or placed in an oven for 30 minutes. And for the most part, again, these are processed, calorie-heavy foods.
To sum up
As you can see, many factors are in play when it comes to people having to make choices regarding the food they eat.
And simply put, for many who have little means, its all about what is the most affordable. For those of us who are in a position to make better decisions, its important that you take the time to choose foods that not only will put less strain on our environment but overall, are good for you and keep you healthy.
- Medical News Today
- De Irala-Estevez J, et al. (2000). A systematic review of socioeconomic differences in food habits in Europe: consumption of fruit and vegetables. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 54:706-714.
- Journal of Childhood Obesity