A person’s healthy eating habit depends on how well he or she fits with their country’s culture, according to a new study.
“Our results suggest that if you want to help people to eat healthier — or if you want to promote any type of healthy behavior — you want to understand what meaning that behavior has in that culture, and what motivates people to be healthy in that culture,” says lead author Cynthia Levine.
Healthy eating is essential for reducing one’s risk of a number of different diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. [Read more Study of Centenarians Suggests Living Longer Linked with Living Healthier]
“In the U.S., having choice and control and being independent are very important,” says Levine. “Giving people lots of healthy choices or allowing people to feel that they have control over whether they eat healthy options is likely to foster healthier eating.”
The team led by Cynthia Levine, of the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, the international team of researchers from the U.S., Japan, and Chile analyzed the eating habits of middle-aged adults from the United States and Japan.
All participants were required to report how often they ate certain foods each week, such as vegetables, fish, and sugary drinks. The researchers also collected information on the foods they ate when they are under stress. [Read more Can a Vegan Diet Prevent Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes?]
To understand how well individuals in each country fit in with the predominant culture, participants responded to a series of statements such as: “I act in the same way no matter who I am with” (representing independence), and “My happiness depends on the happiness of those around me” (a statement reflecting interdependence).
Participants with higher scores on independence were found to adjust better with United States culture, while those with greater scores on interdependence were better adjusted to Japanese culture.
The results showed that Americans with greater independence score were more likely to follow a healthful diet – which included greater quantities of vegetables and fish, and a lower consumption of sugary drinks – compared to those who had a lower independence score.
Among the American participants, those who were more independent were less likely to use food to cope with stress. [Read more Bilingualism may protect against cognitive impairment from stroke]
As for Japanese adults, the researchers found healthier eating habits among those who scored higher on interdependence than those who had scored lower on interdependence.
“Instead, in Japan, promoting healthy eating is likely to be most effective when it builds on and strengthens social bonds,” says Levine.
In general, the team say the findings of their study suggest a person’s dietary habit may be influenced by their cultural fit, and that healthy eating plans should take culture into account.
The team plan is planning to conduct more studies to assess how our everyday behavior may be influenced by culture. [Read more Consuming Red Meat and Poultry in High Amounts Tied to Diabetes]
“We would like to explore how these cultural differences in the meanings of common behaviors can be utilized to encourage healthy eating or healthy behaviors,” adds Levine.
The study was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
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