Factors that influence eating behavior

Being aware of the factors that influence what and how much you eat can help you make informed eating choices.

High availability of foods. Because food is so readily available in our culture, it is easy to eat without thinking too much about food intake. Some experts believe the high availability of foods, especially fast foods, is responsible for the increasing rates of obesity and childhood obesity in the United States. "Supersizing," which is providing very large amounts of food and drink for a low price, also may contribute to obesity.

Routines. People who eat regular meals tend to have better diets and be closer to their recommended weight than those who eat randomly. One of the main barriers to planning regular and balanced meals is a busy lifestyle. However, taking the time to plan meals can help you improve your nutrition. Family meals are an important time to share and discuss the day's events. They demonstrate to children what balanced meals look like and also teach them how to interact socially.

Marketing. Marketing creates a desire for many less-than-nutritious foods. Snack foods—marketed not for their nutritional value, but for their fun and taste—often replace the more nutritious foods in our diets. Marketing also caters to a busy lifestyle; grocery store shelves are crowded with frozen and microwaveable meals, instant soups and stews, and prepackaged lunches. These foods usually contain few fruits and vegetables and are often high in fat and salt. Marketing often targets children by using tie-ins between movies, fast-food restaurants, and toys. Children then pressure their parents to visit certain restaurants and buy foods for them based not on their nutritional content but on whether they can obtain a desired toy.

Cultural and social meanings. We may eat foods because we were brought up eating them and find them comforting. Some people eat, or don't eat, certain foods based on religious, political, or social beliefs. These factors are also reflected in the food choices parents make for their children.

Family and living situations. Many people, and most children, eat meals prepared by others, and food choices often are made by that meal preparer.

Emotions. Depression , anxiety, boredom, and stress often lead to unhealthy eating habits, both in adults and children. Our emotions and stress levels, eating habits, busy lifestyles, and family situations are all closely interrelated. Sometimes attempts to change eating habits cannot succeed until the emotions and stress in our lives are managed more successfully. Children who see adults eating in emotional situations may imitate this behavior.

Knowledge of nutrition. Nutrition information affects what we eat. Often this information is conflicting and confusing. When evaluating nutritional information, look at the big picture. Much nutritional news involves only one study. This needs to be considered along with other studies and information that is already known. If a single study disagrees with the larger body of information, you should see how it fits into the larger picture, not throw away all the information that came before.

Last Updated: February 6, 2009

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