The influence of age and gender on food choice: a focus group exploration
Chambers, S., Lobb, A.E., Butler, L. T. and Traill, W. B. (2008) The influence of age and gender on food choice: a focus group exploration. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 32 (4). pp. 356-365. ISSN 1470-6423
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1111/j.1470-6431.2007.00642.x
With 25% of the UK population predicted to be obese by 2010, the costs to individuals and society are set to rise. Due to the extra economic and social pressures obesity causes, there is an increasing need to understand what motivates and prevents consumers from eating a healthy diet so as to be able to tailor policy interventions to specific groups in society. In so doing, it is important to explore potential variations in attitudes, motivation and behaviour as a function of age and gender. Both demographic factors are easily distinguished within society and a future intervention study which targets either, or both, of these would likely be both feasible and cost-effective for policy makers. As part of a preliminary study, six focus groups (total n = 43) were conducted at the University of Reading in November 2006, with groups segmented on the basis of age and gender. In order to gather more sensitive information, participants were also asked to fill out a short anonymous questionnaire before each focus group began, relating to healthy eating, alcohol consumption and body dissatisfaction. Making use of thematic content analysis, results suggested that most participants were aware of the type of foods that contribute to a healthy diet and the importance of achieving a healthy balance within a diet. However, they believed that healthy eating messages were often conflicting, and were uncertain about where to find information on the topic. Participants believed that the family has an important role in educating children about eating habits. Despite these similarities, there were a number of key differences among the groups in terms of their reasons for making food choices. Older participants (60+ years old) were more likely to make food choices based on health considerations. Participants between the ages of 18–30 were less concerned with this link, and instead focused on issues of food preparation and knowledge, prices and time. Younger female participants said they had more energy when they ate healthier diets; however, very often their food choices related to concern with their appearance. Older female participants also expressed this concern within the questionnaire, rather than in the group discussions. Overall, these results suggest that consumer motivations for healthy eating are diverse and that this must be considered by government, retailers and food producers.