Healthy or unhealthy, that is the question. Consumer perceptions of unhealthy eating; considerations and contradictions

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingAbstract


    Consumer motives for food choice have been studied extensively, often showing the importance of health for consumers. Still, consumers make unhealthy choices in their dietary patterns resulting in ever rising rates of affluent diseases like obesity. Surprisingly, perceptions of unhealthy food behaviour have received limited research attention. This study takes an unhealthy approach to explore considerations and dilemmas that consumers face when choosing and consuming food. Six focus group discussions were carried out (N¼35), of which 3 sessions with participants of normal weight (BMI=20,5-22,5) and 3 sessions with participants being overweight (BMI=26,5-34,0). Indirect techniques, particularly appropriate to unravel the underlying structure of observable parameters, were used to capture considerations and dilemmas. At first sight, respondents indicate `unhealthy¿ and `healthy¿ to be obvious opposites of each other; both the normal and overweight groups have contradictory colour associations with the two (red and greyish colours versus green and shiny colours, resp.). Also, respondents are very well able to categorise specific foods into healthy or unhealthy. However when eating is discussed in more detail confusion arises, for example about food products and treatments (e.g. ``an apple is healthy but pesticides make it unhealthy¿¿). It becomes even more complex when positioning foods in dietary patterns or lifestyles (e.g. ``everything you eat extra, besides the main dishes, is unhealthy¿¿), or when incorporating social and emotional aspects as well. Respondents report experiencing dilemmas in food behaviour, for example that dishes should be both home-made and convenient. In addition, clear benefits of unhealthy behaviour (e.g. indulging in fast-food) often appear connected to disadvantages (e.g. feeling guilty after eating fast-food). This study showed that healthy and unhealthy seem to be contradictory terms but that this relation is multi-layered, layers including nutrients, food products, dishes, dietary patterns, lifestyle, social and emotional aspects. These layers potentially conflict with each other.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationAbstract Book; Wageningen Nutritional Sciences Forum
    Volume2009 (63)
    Publication statusPublished - 2009
    EventAbstract Book; Wageningen Nutritional Sciences Forum -
    Duration: 4 Mar 20096 Mar 2009


    ConferenceAbstract Book; Wageningen Nutritional Sciences Forum


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