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Food Autonomy: The Paradox to Cereal-Based Food Choice

By Rosemarie Ann Brown


Certain aspects of our modern diet have been implicated in thedevelopment of non-communicable diseases. For instance, energyconsumed in excess of an individual's physiological requirements maylead to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes mellitus, gall bladder disease,coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, and possibly some cancers.Although many of these diet-related diseases can be controlled by modernmedicine, they cannot be cured. Instead, prevention through public healthstrategies is the only satisfactory solution. One of the major strategies forprevention of diet-related diseases in Australia is to modify the nationaldiet (Rogers 1987). In April 1979, the Commonwealth Department of Health responded to theWorld Health Organisation's call for the development of national food andnutrition polices by proposing the Dietary Guidelines for Australians. "TheDietary Guidelines for Australians provide advice to the general populationabout healthy food choices, so that their usual diet contributes to ahealthy life-style and is consistent with minimal risk for the developmentof diet-related diseases" (National Health and Medical Research Council1992:ix). However, in order to achieve the aim of the dietary guidelines,supporting educational programs are required. This is because it isbelieved that as consumers become more informed about food, nutrition,health, and the dietary guidelines, they are more likely to begin changingtheir diet in the directions recommended by the CommonwealthDepartment of Health and Family Services (1998a). Public health professionals believe that behaviour-change theories arebeneficial in gaining an understanding of the evolution of peoples' foodand nutrition behaviours. Behaviour-change theories are typicallyintegrated into dietary interventions as a means of educating theAustralian population about healthy food choices. However, attempts tochange Australians' food and nutrition behaviours by applying behaviour-change theories have been adiaphorous. Therefore, public health professionals need to explore traditional food and nutrition practices inorder to determine more effective dietary change strategies for the Australian population. Qualitative research is complementary to existing quantitative studies onbehaviour-change. Since qualitative methodologies focus on the whole ofhuman experience and the meaning ascribed by individuals living theexperience, these methodologies permit broader understanding and deeperinsight into complex human behaviours such as food consumption thanwhat might be obtained from grossly measured quantitativeclassifications. Grounded theory was the qualitative methodology chosenfor this study because it allowed me to theorise about the rationale forconsumers' current food choices. Bread and Cereal consumption waschosen as an important staple food group in which to explore thisphenomenon. Thus, this research was designed to discover, understand,and theorise about the rationale for consumers' current Bread and Cerealfood choices. Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with22 participants living in South-East Queensland. Adult males and femalesfrom three-generational families of varying ethnicity were recruited frommy personal network of associates. Interviews were analysed usinggrounded theory methodology for data analysis. The resulting Grounded Substantive Theory of Food Autonomy posits thatconsumers have different levels of power when it comes to selecting theBreads and Cereals they want to eat and that their power to choose themis governed by micro- and macroenvironmental forces.Microenvironmental forces envelop sociofamilial powers such as parents,partner, and offspring whereas macroenvironmental forces envelop thesociopolitical powers of the food industry, health professionals, andinstitutions. These forces influence a consumer's capacity to select theBreads and Cereals they want to eat. Consumers engage in the process ofinformation gathering in order to overcome these prevailing influences. The significance of the Grounded Substantive Theory of Food Autonomy asa means for explaining how consumers acquire food autonomy fromprevailing influences in order to eat the Breads and Cereals they desirehas important implications for public health nutrition education andpractice. An understanding of the life long nature underpinning a person'sfood behaviour will help nutrition and dietetic professionals understandbetter the range of change that is likely to be possible, and the best waysto facilitate food autonomy through appropriate education and compatibledietary interventions. Autonomy is not a new concept but when associatedwith food it introduces the public health professional to a paradoxicalperspective for studying consumers' food behaviour, which has beencustomarily looked at via the decision making process of food choice andbehaviour-change theories with adiaphorous effects

Topics: Food autonomy, behaviour change, breads and cereals, consumers, education, food choice, food identity, grounded theory, lifecourse, nutrition, public health, qualitative.
Publisher: Queensland University of Technology
Year: 2005
OAI identifier:

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