Research Article| Volume 30, ISSUE 6, P361-370, November 1998

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Life-Course Influences on Fruit and Vegetable Trajectories: Qualitative Analysis of Food Choices

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      Food consumption plays an important role in health, and understanding the process of food choice is central to health promotion. A person's life-course transitions and trajectories (persistent thoughts, feelings, strategies, and actions over the lifespan) are fundamental influences on the development of his or her personal system for making food choices. This analysis used a life-course perspective to examine influences on the fruit and vegetable choices of adults. A purposive, multi-ethnic sample of 86 adults in one U.S. city participated in semi-structured in-depth interviews about their life course, food choices, and influences on fruit and vegetable consumption. Qualitative analysis of interview transcripts, using a grounded theory approach based on the constant comparative method, revealed that past life-course events and experiences were strong influences on present systems for fruit and vegetable choices. Life-course transitions, especially role changes and health events, placed people on relatively stable dietary trajectories that shaped current food choices. Most people experienced a few major transitions that influenced their fruit and vegetable choices, some being abrupt and some more gradual changes in their trajectories. A life-course model of a food choice trajectory was developed from the data to reflect how past events and experiences were operationalized in present contexts to shape food choices. Key influences on the trajectory included food upbringing, roles, health, ethnic traditions, resources, location, and the food system. A life-course perspective on food choice provides unique insights that reveal how past events interact with current environments to both enable and limit current health behaviors such as food choices.


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