Behavioral Change towards Food Choices in School


According to Gary Gregory and Michael di Leo in “Repeated Behavior and Environmental Psychology: The Role of Personal Involvement and Habit Formation in Explaining Water Consumption,” behavior change lies in conjunction with a process that deals with the connection between knowledge, awareness, attitude, personal involvement, habitual intentions, habitual behavior, and situational variables, which include socioeconomic, demographic, and physical environment variables. Over the next two and a half months, my group members and I in the Environmental Communication course at NYU would like to improve nutrition in a public school. Many citizens of our country do not make healthy eating choices. This problem starts at a young age. In the following, Gregory and di Leo explain how the first step that leads to deciphering behavioral outcomes has to do with gaining awareness:

Awareness is a mental state that an individual reaches by consciously accepting and processing informational cues. Closely related to the concept of knowledge, awareness can be thought of as the application of knowledge to a specific object, situation, or action. Awareness can also trigger information search in an effort to achieve greater knowledge. Awareness is clearly an important first step toward the attainment and synthesis of information, and serves as an important antecedent in determining behavioral outcomes” (Gregory and di Leo 1263).

Our plan includes educating children in workshops about the advantages of eating healthily and providing students with organic, locally sourced, plant-based school meal choices. We hope to create awareness through knowledge, and then apply the education to everyday life choices in terms of daily food intake. As I have mentioned in a previous post, I grew up learning about the Food Pyramid Guide in primary school, which has turned out as an ineffective guide to eating and living healthily due to its accordance with corporate interests rather than public/consumer interests. However, the USDA food guides do engage directly with individuals through designating personal involvement on the individual. Gregory and di Leo write, “Persuasive communications need to focus on increasing personal relevance (involvement)” (1286). We aim to gear these workshops around the idea that the information given to students will directly affect them on a personal level through making them aware of the consequences surrounding their decisions on what foods they choose to consume and the potential benefits in making informed choices (1285).

We made children in primary school our target audience because children do not have as strong of habits that have been deeply rooted into them in comparison to adults. Their perceptions of the world continually change until they reach adulthood. However, we understand that these children may already have habits formed in relation to the foods that they eat. Factoring in socioeconomic, demographic, and physical environment variables holds key to understanding routines of these students. As mentioned by Gregory and di Leo, “Understanding the factors that maintain routinized responses is a first step toward developing successful intervention strategies to change habitual behavior (Ouellette & Wood, 1998)” (1285).

In “The Rise of Seafood Awareness Campaigns in an Era of Collapsing Fisheries,” Jennifer Jacquet and Daniel Pauly points out how a disconnect severs the relationship between the seafood industry, seafood awareness of consumers, and seafood awareness campaigns. The main problem lies within the characteristics of the market itself and difficulty in traceability. Products get represented through labeling as either/both eco-friendly and/or high quality due to financial incentives associated with marketing a product in such a manner. Case in point, illegally caught Patagonian toothfish gets passed of as Chilean sea bass, flesh of low value fish gets marketed as imitation ‘krab’, and Thai shrimp often get exported as wild-caught rather than farm raised (310). Jacquet and Pauly bring attention to the point in time when whales were on the brink of extinction. During this time, a change in public opinion of whales occurred in which whales got de-commodified through a temporary prohibition on whaling and thus, the wide public acceptance of ‘whale mythology’ (312). By means of the moratorium on whaling, the International Whaling Commission transformed the attitudes of people in the public through widespread knowledge and direct involvement. Jacquet and Pauly reason, “It is only when a similar revulsion is felt by the public about the wholesale destruction of fish populations and marine ecosystems that we can hope to save them from our management and our appetite” (312). We will consider this idea of changing the way in which people perceive food in our project of nutritional education and the application of nutritional education in a public school. Gregory and di Leo state, “Environmental awareness campaigns should be aimed at promoting reasoned influences (changing attitude and involvement), promoting habitual behavior (changing habits), or both” (1286). Students must see both the disadvantages of eating fatty, processed foods and the advantages of a healthy, plant-based diet, the information should remain directly relevant to the individual student, the information should encourage consistency in choosing healthy food choices, and the application of the education links to the availability of health foods in the school cafeteria for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.


2 responses »

  1. Good start! Most research in this area has shown that a multi-level strategic approach may be needed (eg, the incredibly important role of family, cost and access to healthier food options, socio-cultural issues to include patterns of eating and/or ritual and/or are often deeply rooted generationally… to name just a few known variables.) In the USA, students are boycotting arguably much improved school lunches due to insufficient calories for a large portion of the student population who are not clinically obese, and “healthier” food options that are not palatable. The backlash is concerning on several levels (effectiveness being one – not to be confused with efficaciousness) and it reflects the fact that relevant stakeholders (parents, students, etc…) were not included in the processes. It’s something to consider as you embark on addressing the classic factors that are hypothesized to influence behavior change.

  2. Since your primary target is children, what about the extension of DiLeo’s argument that material factors such as access to money, certain foods, and control over their diet have more to do with what someone does (eats) more than what they are aware of or value? Will you only target a school where students choose what they eat every day, and have equal access to health and unhealthy food (and, as the comment above mentions, healthy palatable food)? Or might the problem be changing access, rather than raising awareness with the hopes of behavior change? How does Added Value balance the access-awareness issue, given that they are a farm?

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