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One Factor That Influences Attitudes to Food Is the Social Learning Theory

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One factor that influences attitudes to food is the social learning theory. This theory emphasises the impact that observing other people (models) has on personal attitudes and behaviours. Children easily acquire eating behaviours from their parents. Parents inevitably influence their children as they control the foods bought and serves in the home. Research has suggested a general relationship between parent and child and their attitudes to food, for example Brown and Ogden reported consistent correlation between parent and child and snack food intake, eating motivations and boy dissatisfaction.

Another factor that affects attitudes to food is cultural influences, for example ethnicity. Research has suggested that body dissatisfaction and related eating concerns and disorders are more characteristic of white women than black or Asian women. Ball and Kennedy researched the ‘acculturation effect’. They studied over 14,000 women between the ages of 18 and 23 in Australia. Results for all groups showed that the loner the amount of time spent in Australia; the more the women reported eating behaviours similar to women born in Australia.

There is an abundance of research support for the social learning theory. Meyer and Gast surveyed 10-12 year old girls and boys and found a significant positive correlation between peer influences and disordered eating, with ‘likeability’ of peers being the most important factor. The role of the theory is also supported by a study of mothers and daughters by Birch and Fisher (2000). They found that the best predictors of the daughters eating behaviours were the mothers’ dietary restraint and their perception of the risks of the daughters becoming overweight.

It is suggested that attitudes to food have to be a product of much more than social learning theory alone. Evolutionary explanations must also be taken into account, for example suggesting that our preference for sweet and fatty foods is a direct result of an evolved adaptation of our ancestors over two million years ago.


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