Challenges for Healthy Eating: A Cross-Cultural Study of Conceptions of Eating Among Young Adults in Urban Australia and Japan

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 4:15 PM
Room: F205
Distributed Paper
Wakako TAKEDA , National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, the Australian National University, ACT, Australia
In the early 21st century when bio-medical view on health and medicine dominates global discussion on “healthy eating”, most guidelines and recommendations are primarily concerned with fulfilling nutritional requirements and avoiding or limiting the intake of undesirable substances.  They are motivated by the prevalence of chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases and obesity in modern society.  Consequently, cultural ideologies around “healthy eating” are being constructed around these rationales.  Beyond food intake, some studies and public health policies assert further that commensal eating (eating with others) encourages healthy eating behaviours such as eating slowly and consuming a variety of foods.

I argue that the bio-medical approach mentioned above is often individualistic and overlooks unique socio-cultural aspects of eating and living in a local community such as commensal eating, culinary culture, history, lifestyle, and food supply chain.  I explore the construction of “healthy eating” among young adults in urban cities of Australia and Japan through 71 in-depth interviews conducted during 2012-2013.  I examine holistic aspects of eating by including contextual aspects of commensal and solo eating (eating alone)in the interviews.  In contrast to previous literature, I find that the majority of participants see commensal eating as a good cultural practice and may associate it with mental health benefits, but that this practice is not necessarily associated with the healthy intake of food (portion size, pace and food content).  This is due to the fact that commensal eating is rather complex and sensitive to socio-cultural circumstances.

In conclusion, this study identifies dynamics of eating contexts in different culture as challenges for healthy eating promotion in the modern society.