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Outline and Evaluate factors affecting attitudes to food and eating (24 marks)

Social learning theory emphasises the impact that observing other people has on an individual’s own attitudes and behaviour. One way in which children acquire their attitudes to food and their eating behaviour is by observing their parents behaviour. Parental attitudes to food inevitably affect children because parents control the food bought and served in the home. Brown and Ogden demonstrated consistent correlations between parents and children in terms of snack food intake, eating motivations and bodily dissatisfaction. Oliviera et al. reported a clear relationship between mothers’ food intake for most nutrients and their pre-school children and suggested that an implication could be that parents could be targeted to try and improve children’s diets.

However, a social learning theory explanation that focuses solely on parental influence ignores all evidence that other influences outside the family shape food preferences- the media and peers also influence preferences. The social learning theory is also determinist as it suggests that our food choices are determined by our early years, with no opportunity of free will. Moreover, the evolutionary theory suggests that our preference for fatty and sweet food is a result of an evolved adaptation that happened amongst our ancestors millions of years ago.
Cultural differences also have an impact on our attitudes to food. These are often related to our exposure to particular foods, availability of certain foods as well again to social learning. Much of the research into attitudes to food and eating behaviour has focused mainly on body dissatisfaction. Powell and Khan suggested that body dissatisfaction and eating disorders are more characteristic of White woman than Black or Asian. Therefore, cultural differences affect our attitudes to food and eating.

However, this ignores the acculturation effect- that different ethnic groups tend to take on the cultural attitudes of the country they have moved into. Ball and Kennedy studied 14.000 women aged 18-23 in Australia and found that for all ethnic groups the longer time spent in Australia the more women reported attitudes and eating behaviours similar to women born in Australia. Studies of Pica Indians of New Mexico show that those who stay in their communities have low levels of obesity whilst those who move to the USA have high level of obesity. However, there is conflicting evidence that there are sub-continental difference in attitudes to food that remain despite location change.

Cross-cultural differences in attitudes to food have also been examined by Rozin who surveyed adults and students from Belgium, France, Japan and America. They found that even though in all cultures the females associated food with worry, the French and Belgium’s tended to see food as pleasurable and the Americans associated food with stress. However, this may be due to the fact that Americans have an individualist culture which health and food are seen as ones individual responsibility. Whereas in European culture food is seen as a communal undertaking. Therefore, cross-cultural differences also affect our attitudes to food and eating.

Lastly, our mood may affect our attitudes to eating. Schachter developed the ‘Emotionality Theory of Obesity’ which suggests that people became obese because they ate for emotional reasons, whereas slim people only eat when they’re hungry. Davis et al’s study supports the link between mood and eating changes as it demonstrated that one hour before a binge, bulimic individuals had more negative mood states than one hour before a normal snack or meal. Wegner et al. also had students record their eating patterns and mood states over 2 weeks and found that binge days were characterised by low mood compared to non-binge days; with no difference in mood in before and after a binge. Therefore, this demonstrates that mood affects our eating behaviour as negative mood can lead to binging. However, most research into mood and eating disorders focus on women therefore this illustrates gender bias, thus the results may not be able to be generalised to males too as they may act differently.

Moreover, Garg et al found that low mood could lead to comfort eating. He observed the food choices of 38 participants as they watched either an upbeat film or a depressing film. Participants were offered either popcorn or seedless grapes. Those watching the sad film consumed 36% more popcorn than those watching the upbeat film, who ate more grapes. Garg concluded that people who feel sad want to jolt themselves out of the dumps and use snacks to attain euphoria, whilst the happy people chose the healthy option. However, this study may not provide strong support for the link between low mood and eating fatty food. The sample size was small which means we can’t generalise the results to a wider population. There may have also been demand characteristics. Therefore, this study only provides weak support between mood and eating patterns as individual differences may also affect eating patterns as some people may not like popcorn at all.

17/24 Grade A AQA A

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