Nutritional behavior is a general term that is used to refer to a system of activities aimed at satisfying a person’s need for food. Although it is associated with the satisfaction of a vital need, psychological and socio-cultural factors play an important role in its formation. Eating behavior can be adequate or deviant depending on various parameters, in particular, the place of food in the hierarchy of individual values, as well as the historical perspectives of cultures on nutrition. The influence of cultural factors on the development of nutritional behavior stereotypes is significant (Jarosz, 2016). Human eating behavior is a value attitude towards food and its intake, a stereotype of nutrition in everyday conditions and stressful situations, and an orientation towards the image of one’s body. The assessment of eating behavior in different cultures shows that high-risk nutritional behaviors must necessarily take into account the cultural aspects.
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Culture acts as one of the main factors for the development of various eating disorders. Erich Fromm’s theory defines personality as a non-free unit, which ceases to be what it is and becomes what the cultural model of a given society requires. Within the framework of the theory of personality, changes in eating behavior depend on the cultural characteristics of different social environments. Thus, in the Western world, some culturally determined stereotypes prevail, while in Eastern culture, completely different ones exist (Jarosz, 2016). However, globalization is changing the cultural perspectives on food, and various unhealthy eating practices are becoming global.
The culture of American children and adolescents stands out and attracts attention with its high-risk nutritional practices. One in three American children between the ages of two and nineteen eats fast food (Jarosz, 2016). Excess food leads to an increase in the child’s weight, since all excess substances are stored in the body in the form of fat, and the child’s body weight begins to exceed the norm. More than a third of American children and adolescents eat pizza, fried chicken, and other fast-food meals every day. The increasing prevalence of childhood obesity is caused by economic and social changes in society. The consumption of cheaper foods high in fat, sugar, salt, combined with low levels of physical activity, leads to a sharp increase in obesity in the younger population (Jarosz, 2016). This problem is associated not only with the changing way of life of children in the family and educational institutions, but also with the cultural and socio-economic conditions and state policy in the field of education, urban planning, agriculture, and food production.
American cuisine is a fusion of different ingredients, habits, and styles brought by the Europeans who colonized the lands of North America. And it grew along with the new influx of immigrants. Everyone brought something different and that’s why American cuisine is so diverse. The modern and most obvious reasons for the popularity of fast food are the speed of preparation, affordable price, and ease of maintenance (Jarosz, 2016). Fast food is a convenient form of food for those whose working day is scheduled down to the minute. For the sake of the speed of food consumption, people are ready to sacrifice their health. Overweight and obesity negatively affect the quality of life and all spheres of human activity, often leading to the development of severe concomitant diseases and disability (Giannopoulou et al., 2020). Most people with overweight and obesity experience difficulties due to the presence of serious deviations in health, physical limitations, and psychological problems. Overweight and obesity are associated with higher mortality rates worldwide than underweight.
People from different cultures have different approaches to enjoying food, but the influence of the globalization processes changes the cultural perspectives. For example, the French, as well as the Italians, are usually hedonists; they eat what they like, but prefer reasonably small portions. They try to dine in the fresh air, combine food intake with socializing, and take a walk after eating. From an early age, they form the concept of healthy food, learn to value the national culinary reputation, and try to preserve food traditions. Nevertheless, obesity is spreading more and more in Europe and the Western world since many modern people prefer to eat ready-made food and not waste time preparing it (Jarosz, 2016). The youth all around the world is gradually getting used to more nutritious and sweet snacks that lead to obesity and other serious health problems.
Health care providers should take care of individuals with high-risk behaviors. Their actions should be aimed at promoting a healthy lifestyle, balanced nutrition, and increasing the level of physical activity. This will stimulate the conscious, purposeful work of people to restore and develop their vital resources and take responsibility for their health. In addition to promoting a healthy lifestyle, to effectively combat the obesity epidemic, it is necessary to create an environment that helps reduce the risks of developing hypodynamia at home, at school, and in free time (Giannopoulou et al., 2020). Properly organized leisure plays an important role in solving the problem of reducing excess body weight. Average energy expenditure on basketball and tennis courts, and soccer fields are significantly higher than outdoor picnic areas, dog walking, and playgrounds.
On the other hand, there is another culture of modern Western girls and women associated with a different kind of high-risk eating behavior, which is poor nutrition. One of the reasons for this behavior is the change in the norms of the female figure. While not all advertised images are perfect, most of the advertisements contain unrealistic and idealized standards of attractiveness. The image of slim models can cause doubts about one’s attractiveness, which leads to a feeling of dissatisfaction. All this undermines the existing self-esteem and gives it a distorted look. While in the West, the main female body stereotypes are pushed towards restrictive eating behavior, in the East, more feminine body shapes are promoted. This, in turn, suggests that in Western countries, the emergence of restrictive eating behavior under the influence of socio-cultural stereotypes is more common (Neswald et al., 2017). However, these factors operate everywhere due to the spread of cultural influences through the media. Whereas in the past, deviant eating behavior was described as a disorder common in Western countries, it is now found all over the world, including developing countries.
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The rationale for avoiding food varies from culture to culture, but a high-risk nutritional behavior that leads to under-eating and anorexia is more characteristic of the Western world. Girls often develop a fear of getting fat and feel anxiety about their body image. Under these conditions, they attribute their behavior to the value of slimness imposed by the media, which has serious consequences (Neswald et al., 2017). They are accompanied by physical hazards and complications that originate from abnormal eating behavior. Low self-esteem, a tendency to ignore pain, and block anger are common indicators of this eating disorder.
Many eating disorders are based on placing too much importance on weight and body shape and therefore try to prevent weight gain by extreme measures. They are widespread among young people in modern Western culture, in which the media creates an image of the ideal figure, and eating disorders originate from the desire to achieve the ideal. If food has become an obsession, people constantly think about it, as well as their weight and figure, and the slightest weight gain makes them panic (Neswald et al., 2017). However, the diet should not be a rejection of adequate nutrition or a decrease in the number of meals. When the body does not receive any useful substances, it turns carbohydrates into fat cells.
The main harm of restrictive eating behavior that involves extreme dietary restrictions is that it cannot become a full-fledged habit. A human organism cannot constantly live without vitamins, proteins, or a thousand calories a day while doing sports. This will lead to exhaustion, and besides, after returning to the usual diet, the weight will return. All this is a natural reaction of the body to stress (Giannopoulou et al., 2020). The harm of any diet, which involves restricting or avoiding healthy foods containing carbohydrates, is that the deficiency of glucose negatively affects the functioning of the brain. This is expressed in a decrease in the reaction rate, memory impairment, and a decline in creativity.
High-risk nutritional practices in the form of under-eating may cause serious illnesses that can be fatal. Usually, treating such conditions is difficult and time-consuming, and the damage caused by the illness can be lifelong. Unhealthy eating behavior is a complex issue, and despite much research, it is still unknown what specific factors cause these disorders. This is most likely a combination of socio-cultural, genetic, and biological factors (Giannopoulou et al., 2020). Prevention programs should be carried out in groups of children or adolescents in schools or clinical settings, or youth groups such as athletic clubs. The most effective interventions should focus on self-esteem and be delivered in the form of individual or group training. Ultimately, the required parenting style must help to rescue a child from high-risk nutritional habits. A well-designed health promotion that focuses on healthy eating and exercise rather than weight loss may protect against obesity but also under-eating against other eating disorders.
Proper nutrition in different cultures ensures normal growth and development of the body, helps prevent diseases, prolongs life, improves performance, and helps to adapt to adverse environmental conditions. Nutrition is an integral part of human life, but the connection between such an ordinary phenomenon as food and such an exalted concept as culture is ambiguous. Depending on the approach to understanding culture, the attitude to nutrition also changes. Eating practices can become a bearer of culture, so food should be studied and considered taking into account its cultural value. Passion for diets and uncontrolled over-eating are various forms of disturbed eating behavior. The assessment of different unhealthy nutritional practices can be influenced by socio-cultural characteristics. Thus, high-risk eating behaviors must necessarily take into account the cultural aspects.
Giannopoulou, I., Kotopoulea-Nikolaidi, M., Daskou, S., Martyn, K., & Patel, A. (2020). Mindfulness in eating is inversely related to binge eating and mood disturbances in university students in health-related disciplines. Nutrients, 12(2), 396.
Jarosz, E. (2016). Food for thought: A comparative analysis of eating behavior in the United States, Poland, and Armenia. Food, Culture & Society, 19(4), 655-679.
Neswald, E., Smith, D. F., & Thoms, U. (Eds.). (2017). Setting nutritional standards: Theory, policies, practices (Vol. 38). Boydell & Brewer.