HOW ADULTS CONSTRUCT FOOD CHOICE: CATEGORIES, CONTEXTS, AND SCRIPTS
People are more likely to accept, integrate, and act on nutrition information that corresponds with their food cognitions. The purpose of this project was to explore and describe how adults construct food choices using schema theory as a way to understand food cognitions. Forty-two purposively recruited, employed US adults completed repeated card-sort tasks and in-depth, qualitative interviews related to different eating contexts. They sorted 59 food cards across multiple contexts. These data were analyzed for the types of categories that participants used to organize the cards using grounded theory approaches. Personal-experience-based ways of classifying were specific to the individual. Context-based ways of classifying were related to different characteristics of eating episodes. Food-based ways of classifying were related to properties of food. Cluster analysis was used to identify clusters of participants according to salience of their ways of classifying the food cards. Seven clusters were identified. To gain understanding of how participants constructed food choice in a specific eating episode, the researcher analyzed passages from the interview transcripts related to the evening meal. Analysis identified participants' scripts for this meal in terms of interconnected dominant values, general expectations, and plans that included strategies and procedures. Scripts varied in scope and flexibility. The following eight kinds of scripts were identified and labeled using participants words: "providing dinner for my family," "head of the table cooks," "head of the table does not cook," "trying unsuccessfully to have a family meal," "share the work," "anything goes," and "live alone entertaining." The application of schema theory provided important insights into the mental processes involved in food choice. Individuals' unique food schemas consist of rich and complex categories that are differentially accessed depending on the food context. Food choice scripts demonstrate how individuals' mental processes are linked to behavior. These findings provide insights useful to nutrition professionals interested in promoting adoption of healthy eating habits.
Carole A. Bisogni Jeffery Sobal Edward A. Frongillo Jr. Gretel H. Pelto Martha H. Stipanuk
food choice; schemas; scripts; food classification; eating context
dissertation or thesis