Discuss research into factors influencing attitudes to food and/or eating behaviour


Jan 2013

Essay Question:

‘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. (8marks+16marks)

Attitudes to food depends on factors such as familiarity, parental attitude, social groups, mood and culture. Some factors are more important than others depending on the individual.

Familiarity - learning

Benton (2002) argues that children have a preference for sweet foods such as sweets due to umami and their taste qualities. This explains why children tend to detest vegetables and instead prefer sweet foods. However, some children dislike sweets and prefer vegetables. Therefore, not all children can be generalised to prefer sweets. Children that dislike sweet foods are labelled as ‘abnormal’ by mainstream society as such behaviour is almost seen as deviant. The biological approach can also be linked to Benson’s findings of food preferences as it looks at the evolution of food preferences overtime.

Birch and Marlin (1982) argue that when a two year old is constantly exposed to a disliked food over the space of eight to ten weeks, it reduces neophobia. This can be linked to operant conditioning, specifically the idea of systematic desensitization whereby exposure to a feared stimulus can condition the child to begin to like the feared food. Although Benson’s approach has mundane realism and ecological validity as it can be applied to real life situations in the form of therapies. It could be argued that exposure to a disliked food can sometimes cause psychological harm as the child may have associated a traumatizing experience with their disliked food. Further exposing a child to this stimulus may cause detrimental psychological harm.

Birch (1999)  later concluded  that food preferences are not innate but infact are empirical and by that he meant that they are learnt from experience. This can be linked to classical conditioning where children learn to make associations with foods and make it their preferences as they have come across the food before and they learn to make sense of the tastes. However, Birch can be criticized for ignoring nature(such as biology) aspects of food preferences which do exist, it is not just purely the environment, that children are reared in, that influences their preference for particular foods. However, with that being environmental factors also play a huge role in eating behaviours and food preferences.

Parental influence

Parents can influence what their children eat as they choose and provide the food their children. However, some children have pester power and tell their parents what they would like to eat and their parents abide by those guidelines instead of making their own rules. Ogden, 2007, supports the view that parents influence their children's eating behaviours and poses that a child shares similar tastes to their parents as the parents especially the mother is seen as a role model worth being imitated. It can be argued that this is one


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