Living with Children – comparing Australian consumer food choice motives.

Food Choice

Family attributes and role modelling contribute significantly to the development of a child’s eating behaviour (Benton, 2004). However, the task of putting dinner on the table when living with children can be an event based on a complex matrix of differing factors. With the incidence of obesity and Type II Diabetes rising amongst the young (Benton, 2004), the Australian population is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of maintaining a healthy diet from a young age. However, a recent study by Alfonso Tsang et al in Adelaide has reported that for some South Australians, maintaining a healthy diet for an average household is neither an affordable nor available option. Whilst parents and guardians are in key positions to decide what types of foods are available in the household (Roos, 2011), shifting priorities and economic realities will ultimately influence food choice motives (Alfonso et al, 2007). The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between adult Australians living with children and the many effects that this household situation may have on consumer food choice motives.

An adaptation of the original Food Choice Questionnaire developed by Steptoe et al. (1995) was used for this study and included demographic items to identify Australian adults that were or were not living with children at the time of participation. Items relating to gender, age, employment, and number of children living in the house were added to the original questionnaire, totalling 40 items. The questionnaire was built using Kwiksurveys.com online software and participation was promoted via social media. A total of 38 random participant responses were collected from adult Australians between the ages of 18-64. The respondents represented 2 groups – 13 respondents were placed in the Living with Children group (LWCG) and 25 respondents were placed in the Living without Children group (LWOCG). The response data was then analysed by food choice motive (FCM) category and then by the individual 36 items, calculating the mean and ±2 standard deviation values to ensure a 95% confidence interval of any findings. This process was then repeated for further analysis amongst sub-groups relating to number of children in the household.

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Overall mean values for Food Choice Motive categories scored positively in LWCG. Areas of importance to LWCG were observed in highest ranking order of category and item means. Category “Sensory Appeal” scored highest overall (mean 5.98) with items “Taste good” (mean 6.62), “Keeps me healthy” (mean 6.31), and “Is easy to prepare” (mean 6.23). “Familiarity” scored the lowest for category mean in this group.

Mean value comparisons between LWOCG and LWCG were calculated. Highest positive scores were observed in LWCG for Category “Natural Content” (+1.02), and items “Contains no additives” (+ 1.18), “Contains no artificial ingredients” (+1.13), and “Has a pleasant texture” (+1.11). Lowest negative scores were observed for items “Can be brought in shops close to where I work” (-0.57), “Makes me feel good” (-0.17), and “Helps me control my weight” (-0.12).

Further analysis of 4 sub-groups’ data showed some positive trends in mean values relative to increasing number of children. These observed trends were “Is high in roughage”, “Is high in protein”, “Is not too expensive”, “Is good value for money”, and “Is like the food I ate when I was a child”. No negative trends were observed amongst the 4 sub-groups.

Additional positive trends were observed when isolating the sub-groups from LWCG. These included “Familiarity”, and items “Is easily available in shops and supermarkets” and “Is familiar”. Negative trends in mean values were observed in category “Natural content”, and items “Keep me awake/alert”, “Takes no time to prepare”, and “Contains no artificial ingredients”.

Whilst many comparisons and trends have been observed in this study, there have also been limitations. Further demographic information in regards to socio-economic status and regular household income may give further insight to both increasing and decreasing trends observed with food choices as the household grew in size. Further to this, an accompanying food frequency questionnaire would benefit in determining the truthfulness of certain responses, particularly in categories “Health” and “Contains Natural Ingredients”. As mentioned in a similar study by Roos et al. (2011), “parents may have reported higher scores for some FCMs because it is may be politically correct”.

The significance of this study has ultimately been determined by the small group size of participants (particularly amongst sub-groups). High standard deviation values were observed in all areas, and this has had a considerable impact on the significance of the overall study. Therefore, there are no statistically significant values of difference in survey responses to confirm that living with children affects Australian consumer food choices motives.

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