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`Attitudes to food and eating behaviour are influenced by a range of factors such as
culture, mood and health concerns.' Discuss research into factors influencing
attitudes to food and/or eating behaviour. (8 marks + 16 marks)
One explanation of our attitudes to food is outlined in the social learning theory. Parental modelling
of attitudes to food affects children's own attitudes because they control what's brought into the
house and what meals are served.
Brown and Ogden found correlations between parents and their children in terms of snack food
intake, eating motivation and body dissatisfaction. This is because the offspring have observed their
parents' behaviour and are therefore motivated to reproduce that similar behaviour.
The social learning theory also predicts that media has an influence on eating behaviour; Macintyre et
al found that the media can affect what we eat, as well as our attitudes towards certain foods.
Research into the social learning theory is not just limited to parents and the media. Meyer and Gast
indicated how influential peers can be. They surveyed 10-12 year olds and found a positive
correlation between peer influences and disordered eating. The `likeability' of peers was the most
Birch and Fisher found that the best predictors of the daughters' eating behaviour were the mothers'
dietary constraint and their perception of the risks of the daughters becoming overweight.
This supports other evidence providing that social learning and modelling has a significant effect on
our attitudes to food.
On the other hand, much of the research into the social learning theory and attitudes to food
provides correlational data. Though this research highlights a link between the observation of role
models and our eating behaviour, this doesn't necessarily determine a cause&effect relationship
between the two variables.
In fact, this means that there could be extraneous variables to affect our behaviour towards food; for
example people appear to learn from the media about healthy heating. However, healthy eating can
be affected by sociocultural factors such as age and income. People cannot always act on what they
have learnt, so research measuring the effect of media on our eating behaviour is generally low in
As a whole, the impact of observing others through the social learning theory and the media is a
reductionist explanation of factors affecting eating behaviour, because it fails to take other
explanations into account.
For example, a biological explanation suggests the brain plays an important role in the control of
appetite. When glucose levels are low, the lateral hypothalamus is activate which produces hunger.
We then subsequently eat and our glucose levels rise which activates the ventromedial
hypothalamus, which tells us the body is satisfied and we should stop eating.
In addition, an evolutionary explanation highlights food preferences to affect our attitudes towards
food because a craving for sweet & fatty food is a direct result of an evolved adaptation among our
distant ancestors. This therefore suggests the social learning theory alone is far too simplistic to full
explain our eating behaviour and our attitudes to food.
Alternatively, another factor to explain our eating behaviour is cultural influences. Research by Powell
and Khan suggests that body dissatisfaction and related eating disorders are more characteristic of
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white ethnicities, as opposed to black or Asian.
To test this, Ball and Kennardy studied 14,000 Australian women of different ethnic origins. They
found that the longer the women lived in Australia, the more similar their eating behaviours became,
thereby suggesting that people adopt the beliefs and attitudes of the surrounding culture, known as
the `acculturation effect', to prove that ethnicity is a factor to affect eating behaviour.…read more