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Introduction STANLEY R. JOHNSON Eating patterns are important indicators of the nutrition status of the U.S. population. Nutrition status is in turn associated with a number of health conditions known to be important determinants of mortality and morbidity in the population, and it influences the capacity of humans to perform and their general physical and psychological well-being. For these reasons, eating patterns and observed changes in eating patterns have broad implications for food and nutrition policy. The previous section provided background information on the health and nutrition status of the U.S. population from two nationwide surveys. The next section will highlight trends in eating patterns that appear to be occurring. To create a bridge between those two sections, we will now explore factors that may be shaping or causing eating patterns and the observed changes. Increased knowledge of factors that shape eating pat- terns can contribute to an improved understanding of nutrition status, a more compile capacity for anticipating trends in eating patterns, and finally, better education and intervention programs to improve the nutrition and health status of the U.S. population. The three presentations that follow are reviews of theories from eco- nomics, psychology, and consumer behavior on factors that may be shap- ing eating patterns. The perspectives provided by these papers should stimulate interest in the study of determinants of eating patterns. Of course, eating patterns can be influenced by the food supply and the changing ways that people acquire food. Eating patterns also may change in response to changes in personal preferences, which are influenced by an array of 43
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44 WHAT FACTORS SHAPE EATING PAT TERNS? social, economic, and other conditions. In general, eating patterns are shaped by ways people react to and process information, their interactions with others, and culture. Obviously, isolation of the factors that shape eating patterns of the U.S. population or segments thereof is a highly complex undertaking. It is an important pursuit, however, because a more complete understanding of these factors may lead to improvements in intervention and education programs and to better monitoring of the nu- trition and health status of the population. Themes to recognize in the three presentations are concepts of the individual decision process, the stimuli for these decisions, and the re- sponses generated from reactions to these stimuli. This simple stimulus- response framework is useful for achieving a basic understanding of how each discipline explains individual choice for food consumption in general and in particular. These different approaches have implications for what should be measured in analyses of eating patterns and how this information should be used for analyzing and predicting consumption patterns. To apply the simple stimulus-response framework, it is useful to un- derstand the approaches used in the three papers that follow. According to the model based on economics, individuals receive benefit or satisfaction from the consumption of food commodities. The basic stimuli in the economic model are prices and income. The observed response is the allocation of the food budget or income to different food items. Extensions of the economic choice theory involve adjustments for factors believed to influence preferences, the technology for processing purchased foods into edible forms, time requirements for food preparation, the education levels of individuals, and investments in food preparation and related equipment. The decision unit for the economic model is the household, the individual' or both. The presentation dealing with psychology focuses on the basic senses of the individual. Through a number of experiments with humans and laboratory animals, responses to selected stimuli are observed. These responses are related to decisions on whether to consume or not consume particular food items. Extensions of this basic model incorporate factors conditioning the observed responses to these stimuli from the culture, associations with other individuals, and other features of the decision setting. The essentially trial-and-error approach for infants, and to a more limited extent laboratory animals, is replaced in more complex choice situations by structures and institutions that make trial and error unnec- essary. For example, social structures provide information to consumers about whether food items are harmful or good through Me licensing of restaurants, labeling of food products, inspection certification of meat products, and other channels.
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! INTRODUCTION 45 The consumer behavior approach is one of a number of more pragmatic and eclectic theories. In this decision model, the individual is described as an information processor with a memory and a capacity to generalize on the basis of experience. New information introduced into the system in which the processor functions can alter the objectives of the processor, produce different stimuli, or both, thereby yielding responses in the form of observed choices. This information processor model has been used widely in marketing and advertising food products. The three choice models are a subset of those developed for under- standing human behavior in the social and decision sciences. ~ These sci- ences are relatively new, and their respective theories are in a seemingly constant state of evolution. It would be tempting to express impatience with these theories and, in fact, the disciplines. However, it must be recognized that the decisions or responses studied are detained by highly complex configurations of stimuli and, most importantly, that the subjects of the study are human and' thus, not subject to the high levels of ex- perimental control applied in physical sciences. Yet, the approaches represented by these three presentations and others in the behavioral and decision sciences provide many opportunities for research and the development of improved policies designed to improve the health and nutrition status of the population. The three frameworks suggest various measurements and various ways of processing new and older data. In general, they have the potential to improve the scientific basis for public health policy; nutrition education; and intervention pro- grams that are designed to control the food supply, information on the food supply, food assistance programs, and the multitude of factors in- fluencing choices of foods and observed eating patterns. iIncludes marketing, consumer behavior, public administration, and applications of the social sciences.