An exploration of how life events and the social environment affect food behaviours among New Zealand women : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Public Health at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
Background. Food plays a major role in our health. A poor diet is a
contributing factor to many diseases, including obesity and its co-morbidities.
The literature suggests that the social environment including social
relationships, the media and other features of the social context in which one
is born, drive food choices and behaviours. However, there is limited research
available explicitly investigating how significant life events and factors within
the social environment affect food behaviours among New Zealand women.
Given the high prevalence of obesity in New Zealand, there is a concerning
gap in the literature attending to the development of food behaviours that may
help understand the high obesity prevalence.
Aim. The aim of this study is to explore how life events and social
environments impact the food behaviours of New Zealand women.
Methods. This study is informed by phenomenology and used semistructured
interviews for data collection. Nineteen interviews with older
women, who resided in Wellington, were carried out. The interviews asked
questions regarding the experiences of these women and the development of
their food behaviours overtime.
Results. Four main themes were identified, the effect of social relationships;
the changing role of the media; gender roles; and social osmosis. The results
revealed that the participants were highly influenced by social relationships,
with the most influential relationships being between the participants and their
mothers’. The media was found to play a role in influencing the participants to
change their food behaviours. However, the media also caused widespread
confusion about the nutrition guidelines. Gender norms appeared to guide the
participants in the type of food related skills they learnt over their lifetime. The
final theme, social osmosis describes how participants accumulated foodrelated
information from their social environment over their lifetime that
contributed to their food and total nutrition knowledge.
Discussion. As mothers increasingly join the workforce, children may need
additional guidance on food related skills from social environments outside of
the home to make up for the reduced time mothers spend in the home
carrying out roles dedicated to being a homemaker. In addition, there may
need to be restrictions on the type of information published in mainstream
media to avoid confusion about how to maintain a healthy diet. Overall, the
social environment plays a crucial role in the development of food behaviours
and the present study gives an indication of how it is influential for New