The healthiest eaters are the most culturally 'fit'

August 10, 2016

How to be a healthy eater depends on culture. A recent study shows that in the U.S. and Japan, people who fit better with their culture have healthier eating habits. The results appear in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

"Our results suggest that if you want to help people to eat healthier--or if you want to promote any type of healthy behavior--you want to understand what meaning that behavior has in that culture, and what motivates people to be healthy in that culture," says lead author Cynthia Levine.

Healthy eating can help reduce one's risk for a number of different diseases down the line, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

"In the U.S., having choice and control and being independent are very important," says Levine. "Giving people lots of healthy choices or allowing people to feel that they have control over whether they eat healthy options is likely to foster healthier eating."

In Japan where the culture places more emphasis on interdependence and maintaining relationships, a focus on choice and control is less likely to be the key to more healthy eating, write the authors.

"Instead," says Levine, "in Japan, promoting healthy eating is likely to be most effective when it builds on and strengthens social bonds."

Research

In a series of studies, the international team of researchers from the U.S., Japan, and Chile analyzed samples of eating habits of middle-aged adults in the United States and Japan. The researcher's utilized data that included how often people eat certain items each week, including fish, vegetables, or sugary beverages, as well as some information on cholesterol and how participants relate to food when under stress.

To understand how well people in each country fit in with the predominant culture, participants responded to a series of statements such as "I act in the same way no matter who I am with" (a statement reflecting independence) or "My happiness depends on the happiness of those around me" (a statement reflecting interdependence). Participants with high scores on independence have the best cultural fit in the U.S. Participants with high scores on interdependence have the best cultural fit in Japan.

Healthy Habits

In the U.S., which favors independence, being independent predicted eating a healthy diet including higher amounts of fish, protein, fruit, vegetables, and fewer sugary beverages. The research also showed the more independent adults were less likely to use food as a way to cope with stress.

While the overall diets in Japan were healthier than U.S. participants, those in Japan who rated themselves as more interdependent showed healthier eating habits then their Japanese peers who did not.

This research is consistent with other work showing that fitting into one's culture shapes the healthiness of one's food consumption.

Levine is interested in utilizing these results for future studies that further reveal the role of culture in everyday behaviors.

"We would like to explore how these cultural differences in the meanings of common behaviors can be utilized to encourage healthy eating or healthy behaviors," says Levine.
-end-
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (PSPB), published monthly, is an official journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). SPSP promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world. Follow us on Twitter, @SPSPnews and find us at facebook.com/SPSP.org.

Society for Personality and Social Psychology

Related Personality Articles from Brightsurf:

Infant temperament predicts personality more than 20 years later
Researchers investigating how temperament shapes adult life-course outcomes have found that behavioral inhibition in infancy predicts a reserved, introverted personality at age 26.

State of mind: The end of personality as we know it
In a study published today researchers propose that changing states of mind are holistic in that they exert all-encompassing and coordinated effects simultaneously on our perception, attention, thought, affect, and behavior.

Want to change your personality? It may not be easy to do alone
Most people want to change an aspect of their personality, but left to their own devices, they may not be successful in changing, research shows.

How personality predicts seeing others as sex objects
Several personality traits related to psychopathy -- especially being openly antagonistic -- predict a tendency to view others as merely sex objects, finds a study by psychologists at Emory University.

Scientists say you can change your personality
A review of recent research in personality science points to the possibility that personality traits can change through persistent intervention and major life events.

Personality traits affect retirement spending
How quickly you spend your savings in retirement may have as much or more to do with your personality than whether you have a lot of debt or want to leave an inheritance.

For the first time: A method for measuring animal personality
A study on mice shows animal research may need to take into account the connection between genes, behavior and personality.

Your spending data may reveal aspects of your personality
How you spend your money can signal aspects of your personality, according to research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The sun may have a dual personality, simulations suggest
A deep dive into the sun's interior provides new clues to the forces that govern that star's internal clock.

A personality test for ads
People leave digital footprints online, and this information could helps marketers personalize ads based on individual personality types.

Read More: Personality News and Personality Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.