What are the Factors Influencing Food Choices in Humans?
Many factors influence food choices, as food choice is not a simple process. Foods are not simply chosen because they are liked. There are other reasons for consuming a particular food in addition to the fact that the taste, smell, and/or appearance of the food is pleasurable. For example, the post-ingestive consequences of consuming a particular food can influence whether someone chooses that food (e.g. what the media has said about the effect of a food, such as the consumption of a particular food will lower cholesterol levels). Food choice is also affected by the individual’s difficulty in obtaining that food, the alternative reinforcers available to the subject, and the degree to which the subject has been deprived of that food.
Factors affecting dietary patterns and practices
The dietary patterns and practices of individuals are affected by many variables that may be categorised as physiological factors, food accessibility, food characteristics, environmental influences, and psychological influences. It is the combination of these factors that ultimately determines what, how, and why foods are consumed.
Physiological factors that affect food consumption include age, sex, body size, metabolic rate, health status, level of physical activity, pregnancy, lactation, hormonal secretions, use of drugs, and physiological comparisons. However, the inherent regulation of the intake of essential dietary components, apart from water and the need for fuel/energy, has not been established. There is evidence of an inherent desire for the taste of sweet foods, but desires for other flavours are probably learned. Food selection and consumption may also be affected by general health status. Those who are ill tend to eat less, and often prefer more simple, bland foods. The use of drugs may alter food consumption, as many drugs stimulate or depress appetite. Cigarette smoking is accompanied by decreased consumption of sweet-tasting, high calorie foods, although consumption of other foods does not change.
Food accessibility refers to the availability and affordability of foods. Food technology continues to improve the year-round availability of foods and to create and make available new products. Food accessibility is often dictated or limited by life-style and by living and working situations. Those who live with families or other groups will have primary access to those foods that are purchased and/or prepared by the person delegated this responsibility. Those who are the primary food purchasers and preparers have more control over what foods are purchased and how they are prepared, but may be greatly influenced by preferences of household members. Some people have a life-style that dictates the consumption of institutional or restaurant foods.
Food characteristics include the physical appearance of colour, shape, temperature, aroma and flavour. Exposure (familiarity) to these characteristics of food plays a role in food preferences. Studies in infants, young children and adults indicate that food preference is a direct function of exposure frequency. The resemblance of food preferences of college students to those of their parents was found to be related to imitation and frequency of exposure. Some foods are consumed primarily for their pharmacological effect (alcohol in alcoholic beverages and caffeine/theobromide in coffee, tea, chocolate, and some soft drinks).
Environmental influences include exposure to food-related customs and traditions, parental and peer influence, media advertisement, merchandising/marketing displays, and knowledge about diet-health relationships influences what one chooses to eat and how it is consumed. Food choice may also be affected by season and environmental temperatures. Psychological influences of food may be associated with moods, emotions and events. The choice of certain foods may be associated with celebration, security, illness or even unhappiness, and thus be avoided or eaten only on certain occasions.
Food preferences, acceptance and appetite are developed through exposure to the physical characteristics of foods in combination with environmental and psychological influences. Food preferences (likes and dislikes) tend to limit the available food supply of an individual. The relationship between a dislike and non-use of a food is stronger than a liking for and consumption of a food. Food preference and acceptance are usually measured by hedonic scale and/or by frequency of use.