Nyamweya is a Kenyan scholar who has done many years of research on a diversity of topics
It is my opinion that personal responsibility for food choices is not the only factor that affects what people eat. It is impossible to understand, explain, or alter eating habits without taking into account the context in which a person lives, for instance, family, home, and individual traits. This context exists within a broader community context, such as neighborhood, school, and work, and societal factors like marketing, economics, and culture. These contexts interplay to affect behavior. An integrated approach to understanding the processes and settings of the influences shaping individuals' eating behaviors can help explain the interactions between factors in different domains. If the diets of individuals are to improve, attention must be given not only to the action of individuals but also to the various contexts and conditions in which people live and eat. This paper will attempt to explain how individual and other diverse factors interact to influence dietary behaviors so that individuals can make informed and healthy nutritional choices.
Determinants of food choice
Biological factors have an important role in an individual’s diet. Individuals use energy and nutrients to live. A person will, therefore, react to the stimuli of hunger and satiety. Different macronutrients have different implications for satiety. For instance, fat is less satiating than carbohydrates and proteins. Also, diets with low energy densities possess higher satiety than diets with high energy densities. Secondly, palatability increases directly with the pleasure one derives from consuming food. The taste, aroma, and appearance of food all influence palatability. Sugary foods have a high sensory appeal and are consequently more palatable. Therefore sugary foods can be taken purely for pleasure. In other words, highly tasty meals attract higher consumption. Research shows that preference for flavors can be hereditary. Tastes can be acquired from breast milk as flavors from maternal diets pass into breast milk.
The cost of various foods and an individual's ability to afford given foods play a significant role in the choice of food one can consume. Low-income individuals are known to take unbalanced diets low in fruit and vegetable. Dependence on energy-potent, nutrient-deficient foods is an implication of a lack of money for wholesome meals. Interestingly, the cost of healthy foods seems to be higher in low-income neighborhoods. Besides, lack of proper culinary facilities at home facilitates the need to take convenience meals or take-away that in most cases is high energy. This condition may lead to under-nutrition as well as over-nutrition. Under-nutrition implies a deficiency in micro-nutrients, while over-nutrition leads to over-consumption, which may cause obesity and other weight complications.
Physical factors, such as education, accessibility, and time greatly influence an individual's food choice. Educated people are more likely to go for healthy dietary options. This is because educated individuals can apply their nutritional knowledge when choosing their meals. They can also employ their cooking skills to prepare healthy meals from essential ingredients. Again, educated people can quickly increase their fruit and vegetable consumption in affordable ways regardless of their economic status. Accessibility is another important factor in diet determination. Accessibility to stores and the availability of foods in the stores will influence food choice. This condition is related to geographical location and transport systems. If I cannot access a particular foodstuff, I will work with what is available. Lastly, the lack of time will prevent one from taking up healthy food choices. Busy individuals will tend to go for 'fast-foods' that usually, are not healthy.
Social factors such as class, culture, and social context play a critical role in food choices. The higher social classes tend to go for healthier foods, while the lower classes usually settle for high energy foods. Cultural influence is also a significant factor in food choices and preparation. Traditions, beliefs, and values influence food preference, preparation, and nutrition status. One of the most pronounced determinants of food choice is social context. The social context implies an individual's environment, including people who have an impact on his eating habits and the setting in which he eats. Direct influence includes situations where one is bought for food, while indirect influence may be seen when one learns dietary habits from a peer's behavior. The setting for food intake will affect food choice by the provision of food options.
Various psychological factors, such as stress and mood, can have a considerable impact on an individual's choice of food. Stress can cause changes in an individual's behaviors and affect food choice. When stressed, some individuals will take more food and make unhealthy food choices. However, other individuals will consume less. Stress-induced changes may be due to changes in motivation (e.g., reduced concern for weight control), physiological (decreased appetite), changes in eating opportunities, food availability, and meal preparation. On the other hand, food is capable of changing an individual's mood and temperament influencing food choice. People have food cravings, and the relationship with food for dieters may mean that they feel guilty after indulging in food.
Attitudes and beliefs have an essential role in the food choices of an individual. Attitudes vary by individuals, groups, and countries. Quality, price, taste, healthiness, and preference influence food choices. More knowledgeable individuals are more likely to consider 'health aspects' more important than price. Also, men are more likely to rate taste and habit as the main determinants of food choice as opposed to other factors. Another factor that is instrumental in the determination of food choice is optimistic bias. Many individuals perceive their diets to be healthy and see no reason to adjust. These people, therefore, consider themselves at less risk of hazards compared to the others. When an individual perceives his diet to be already healthy, he is less likely to review other healthy eating practices.
Many factors influence an individual's food choices. There are also various barriers to dietary and lifestyle changes that vary with life stages and the individual or group. It is a considerable challenge both to health practitioners and the general public to effectively institute dietary change. Diverse strategies must be put in place to effect behavioral change in individuals and groups with tailor-made priorities. Campaigns that incorporate specific advice that include practical solutions, as well as environmental change, can succeed in promoting dietary change.