PROJECT

Reference: PROJ/CI&DETS/2016/0008 & PROJ/CI&DETS/CGD/0012

Title: Psycho-social motivations associated with food choices and eating practices (EATMOT)

Beginning: 1 June 2016

End: 31 December 2018

Project Coordinator: Raquel Guiné (Coordinating Professor, PhD)

Abstract

The role of food as a valuable ally to maintain a good health status and prevent or treat diseases has been well established nowadays, through countless scientific studies. Excess of fats, particularly saturated and trans fats, sugars or salt have been associated with many chronic diseases. Also the insufficient ingestion of fruits and vegetables, as a result of modern trends towards consumption of high levels of processed convenience foods, results in deficiencies in vitamins, dietary minerals, dietary fibres, bioactive substances such as for example antioxidants, among other extremely important food constituents. The human behaviours regarding foods are linked to a number of factors either of sociological nature or of psychological nature. Hence, the aim of this project is to undertake a study about the different psychic and social motivations that determine people’s eating patterns, either in relation to their choices or eating habits. To do this, factors linked to food choices will be evaluated in the following main areas: health motivations; economic factors; emotional aspects; cultural influences; marketing and commercials or environmental concerns. The study will be based on a questionnaire that will be prepared purposely for the project, and therefore adequate to evaluate the aspects that determine the objectives highlighted. The range of the study will be multinational, including different countries so as to gather information on a trans-frontier scale, that will be most valuable to produce relevant scientific outputs as well as directives that could be used in each of the countries to improve eating habits towards healthier diets.

Context and Objectives

Presently it is well established the close relation between eating habits and the prevention of a large number of diseases. An unhealthy diet comprises minimal fruit and vegetable intake and excessive consumption of processed convenience foods high in salt, saturated fat, trans fat and sugar. Eating inappropriate amounts of fats, and particularly saturated and trans fats, constitutes an increased risk of heart diseases such as stroke, atherosclerotic vascular diseases and in particular coronary heart disease, cardiac dysfunction (indirect and direct cardiac effects, including inflammation, hypertrophy, fibrosis, and contractile dysfunction) or increased LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Salt has also been recognized as a major contributor to cardiovascular diseases, as it progressively raises blood pressure levels with age. The presence of added sugars in the diet is associated with increased risk of obesity and other obesity-related chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes. In fact, excess of weight has been identified as a major risk factor for a range of preventable chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoarthritis or diabetes.

 

It is unquestionable that food is essential to provide the human body with the energy it needs to function, as well as macro and micro components and bioactive components with major roles to maintain health. However, food is also recognized as an inseparable part of traditions and culture, as well as social environments, and hence eating has a strong emotional component. Some people may have had certain eating habits for so long that they do not even realize they are unhealthy. On the other hand, for many people, even if a need to change their eating habits is identified, it might be very hard to do it for a number of reasons: the present habits have become part of their daily life, so they do not think much about them; they want to change but familiar or friends influences may overcome their intentions; the role of publicity and marketing must also be accounted, or simply they have become addicted to bad foods and it is difficult to overcome this addiction.

 

The objective behind the development of this project is to perform a study about the different psychic and social motivations that determine people’s eating patterns, either in relation to their choices or eating habits. Some of the areas to explore in the ambit of this project might include factors linked to food choices in these main areas: health motivations; economic factors; emotional aspects; cultural influences; marketing and commercials; environmental concerns.

 

To undertake the study, a questionnaire will be prepared from the start, aimed specifically for this project and produced according to the outlined goals. Then the questionnaire will be tested and later applied to a large number of people in all the countries participating in this transnational study.

 

In the end it is expected to get a very significant level of participation in order to produce valuable and interesting conclusions, with the utmost interest to produce relevant scientific outputs (research articles published in international journals and papers for presentation in congresses worldwide) as well as directives (in the form of reports) that could be used in each of the countries to improve eating habits towards healthier diets.

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