The contribution of psychosocial factors to socioeconomic differences in food purchasing

McKinnon, Loretta Carmen (2012) The contribution of psychosocial factors to socioeconomic differences in food purchasing. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


In developed countries the relationship between socioeconomic position (SEP) and health is unequivocal. Those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged are known to experience higher morbidity and mortality from a range of chronic diet-related conditions compared to those of higher SEP. Socioeconomic inequalities in diet are well established. Compared to their more advantaged counterparts, those of low SEP are consistently found to consume diets less consistent with dietary guidelines (i.e. higher in fat, salt and sugar and lower in fibre, fruit and vegetables). Although the reasons for dietary inequalities remain unclear, understanding how such differences arise is important for the development of strategies to reduce health inequalities.

Both environmental (e.g. proximity of supermarkets, price, and availability of foods) and psychosocial (e.g. taste preference, nutrition knowledge) influences are proposed to account for inequalities in food choices. Although in the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK), and parts of Australia, environmental factors are associated with socioeconomic differences in food choices, these factors do not completely account for the observed inequalities. Internationally, this context has prompted calls for further exploration of the role of psychological and social factors in relation to inequalities in food choices. It is this task that forms the primary goal of this PhD research.

In the small body of research examining the contribution of psychosocial factors to inequalities in food choices, studies have focussed on food cost concerns, nutrition knowledge or health concerns. These factors are generally found to be influential. However, since a range of psychosocial factors are known determinants of food choices in the general population, it is likely that a range of factors also contribute to inequalities in food choices. Identification of additional psychosocial factors of relevance to inequalities in food choices would provide new opportunities for health promotion, including the adaption of existing strategies.

The methodological features of previous research have also hindered the advancement of knowledge in this area and a lack of qualitative studies has resulted in a dearth of descriptive information on this topic.

This PhD investigation extends previous research by assessing a range of psychosocial factors in relation to inequalities in food choices using both quantitative and qualitative techniques. Secondary data analyses were undertaken using data obtained from two Brisbane-based studies, the Brisbane Food Study (N=1003, conducted in 2000), and the Sixty Families Study (N=60, conducted in 1998). Both studies involved main household food purchasers completing an interviewer-administered survey within their own home. Data pertaining to food-purchasing, and psychosocial, socioeconomic and demographic characteristics were collected in each study.

The mutual goals of both the qualitative and quantitative phases of this investigation were to assess socioeconomic differences in food purchasing and to identify psychosocial factors relevant to any observed differences. The quantitative methods then additionally considered whether the associations examined differed according to the socioeconomic indicator used (i.e. income or education). The qualitative analyses made a unique contribution to this project by generating detailed descriptions of socioeconomic differences in psychosocial factors.

Those with lower levels of income and education were found to make food purchasing choices less consistent with dietary guidelines compared to those of high SEP. The psychosocial factors identified as relevant to food-purchasing inequalities were: taste preferences, health concerns, health beliefs, nutrition knowledge, nutrition concerns, weight concerns, nutrition label use, and several other values and beliefs unique to particular socioeconomic groups. Factors more tenuously or inconsistently related to socioeconomic differences in food purchasing were cost concerns, and perceived adequacy of the family diet. Evidence was displayed in both the quantitative and qualitative analyses to suggest that psychosocial factors contribute to inequalities in food purchasing in a collective manner. The quantitative analyses revealed that considerable overlap in the socioeconomic variation in food purchasing was accounted for by key psychosocial factors of importance, including taste preference, nutrition concerns, nutrition knowledge, and health concerns. Consistent with these findings, the qualitative transcripts demonstrated the interplay between such influential psychosocial factors in determining food-purchasing choices.

The qualitative analyses found socioeconomic differences in the prioritisation of psychosocial factors in relation to food choices. This is suggestive of complex cultural factors that distinguish advantaged and disadvantaged groups and result in socioeconomically distinct schemas related to health and food choices. Compared to those of high SEP, those of lower SEP were less likely to indicate that health concerns, nutrition concerns, or food labels influenced food choices, and exhibited lower levels of nutrition knowledge. In the absence of health or nutrition-related concerns, taste preferences tended to dominate the food purchasing choices of those of low SEP. Overall, while cost concerns did not appear to be a main determinant of socioeconomic differences in food purchasing, this factor had a dominant influence on the food choices of some of the most disadvantaged respondents included in this research.

The findings of this study have several implications for health promotion. The integrated operation of psychosocial factors on food purchasing inequalities indicates that multiple psychosocial factors may be appropriate to target in health promotion. It also seems possible that the inter-relatedness of psychosocial factors would allow health promotion targeting a single psychosocial factor to have a flow-on affect in terms of altering other influential psychosocial factors. This research also suggests that current mass marketing approaches to health promotion may not be effective across all socioeconomic groups due to differences in the priorities and main factors of influence in food purchasing decisions across groups.

In addition to the practical recommendations for health promotion, this investigation, through the critique of previous research, and through the substantive study findings, has highlighted important methodological considerations for future research. Of particular note are the recommendations pertaining to the selection of socioeconomic indicators, measurement of relevant constructs, consideration of confounders, and development of an analytical approach.

Addressing inequalities in health has been noted as a main objective by many health authorities and governments internationally. It is envisaged that the substantive and methodological findings of this thesis will make a useful contribution towards this important goal.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 60893
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Turrell, Gavin & Giskes, Katrina M.
Keywords: attitude, belief, cost, diet, disease, education, expense, finance, food, food purchasing, fruit, grocery, health, illness, income, motivation, nutrition, nutrition concerns, nutrition knowledge, nutrition label, psychosocial, satisfaction with diet, socioeconomic position, socioeconomic status, taste, values, vegetable, weight concerns
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 20 Jun 2013 07:24
Last Modified: 23 Jun 2017 14:44

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