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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Constructing everyday notions of healthy eating: exploring how people of three ethnocultural backgrounds in Canada engage with food and health structures Ristovski-Slijepcevic, Svetlana


Despite widespread health promotion and nutrition education efforts, gaps between official healthy eating messages and people’s actual eating practices persist. There is increasing recognition that emphasizing individual responsibility for eating may have limited applicability in improving people’s health. Many experts advocate that future research on healthy eating should involve exploration of how food practices are shaped by social structures (or determinants) and individual agency. The purpose of this study was to explore the ways in which people engage with food structures to construct everyday notions of healthy eating. ‘Food structures’ draws on the concept of ‘structure,’ described by the social theorist Anthony Giddens, to refer to the range of food rules and resources people draw on. The research was conducted as part of a qualitative study on family food decision-making that included 144 participants from 13 African Nova Scotian, 10 European Nova Scotian, 12 Punjabi British Columbian and 11 European British Columbian families. These groups were chosen for their potential differences in perspectives based on place, ethnocultural background and histories of immigration to Canada. Data collection consisted of individual interviews with three or more family members aged 13 and older, and, with each family, observation of a grocery shopping trip and a family meal. Analysis followed common qualitative procedures including coding, memoing and thematic analysis. Together, the analyses support views that the gaps between official healthy eating messages and people’s eating practices may not be closed by further education about how to eat. Drawing on the theoretical concepts of Anthony Giddens and Michael Foucault, the findings suggest that one way to understand why people eat the way they do and how changes in eating habits occur is to think about the constant exposure to change through everyday, taken-for-granted practices. The findings also suggest that further healthy eating discourses may require more reflection with respect to the roles of nutrition educators and the social roles/autonomy of people in goals for health and well-being. Dietary goals for the population cannot be considered as isolated scientific objectives without taking into consideration how healthy eating discourses provide social standards beyond messages about healthy eating.

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