Rural young people who know more eat healthier, Fort Hare researchers find

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A better understanding of what a healthy lifestyle is could contribute significantly to helping young people in rural communities eat better, University of Fort Hare researchers found.

The findings of the study have revealed that the relationship between attitudes towards healthy eating and nutrition knowledge is still a challenge in rural communities of the Eastern Cape.

“Based on the findings of the research, programs on nutrition knowledge awareness can be encouraged to assist young people in rural communities to better understand the importance of healthy eating and change [their]attitudes. Further, research can be done on a larger scale to determine those attitudes toward healthy eating and nutrition knowledge,” the researchers wrote.

The 150 participants also said they don’t always eat healthy. 

“This could mean that many of the young people residing in rural areas lack nutritional knowledge or that the challenges they face related to access to information on nutritional knowledge and healthy eating behaviours result in them not considering these nutrition factors or not regarding them as important.

The findings also showed the presence of positive and negative attitudes toward healthy eating among the young people participating in this research. The other factor that could negatively impact attitude is the growing popularity and convenience of fast food consumption,” the paper continued.

Other factors like household income, personal experiences, the impact of mass media messages, and the example set by parents also influence the food choices of young people.

The research funded by the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences was done by Dr. Nomasonto Xazela, from the University of Fort Hare’s Department of Livestock and Pasture Science and Prof Willie Chinyamurindi and Dr. Herring Shava from the Department of Business Management. 

The research sought to infer implications that assist the work of practitioners within marketing management and consumer decision sciences. The results have the potential to inform also how marketing should be done concerning the promotion of healthy living.

“Young people often face a challenge concerning issues related to nutrition including healthy eating,” the researchers wrote. They set out to understand how these challenges exist for young people living in a rural community. 

“South Africa faces an obesity challenge. Given high obesity levels and nutritional challenges there is a need to ascertain the link between consumer attitudes and knowledge of nutrition since they influence eating behaviour,” the paper reads. 

Researchers used questionnaires to collect data from 150 participants. 

Their research further found that programs were necessary to encourage a better understanding of healthy eating and to change attitudes towards a healthy lifestyle. 

Some of the other significant findings of the study include:

  1. There was a wide range of answers to the question of whether the food they eat should keep them healthy with only 14.8% of young people surveyed strongly agreeing with the idea that the food they eat must keep them healthy. 
  2. A large group (32%) strongly agreed with the statement that it is important for the food they eat to be nutritious
  3. Thirty percent of the young people surveyed disagreed that it was important for the food they ate to contain vitamins and minerals
  4. There was a large range of answers to the question regarding the importance of food, being an aid in weight control with 31.3% strongly agreeing, 23.3% agreed while 28% strongly disagreed.
  5. 43.3% of respondents said they do not always follow a healthy and balanced diet. 
  6. When asked whether they just eat what they like without worrying about the healthiness of food, 40.7% of the young people strongly disagreed while 22% strongly agreed. 
  7. The majority of respondents (51.7%) indicated that the nutrition content of the food item is the most important aspect they wish to know about when they make their purchases, and 23.1% indicated food safety as the most important aspect.
  8. 59.7% indicated that they throw away all expired food items but 14.6% of the young people indicated that they do not care at all about the expiration date on the food items. In comparison, 2.1% of the respondents indicated that they continue to eat the food if there is no obvious change in the quality of the expired food items.

“This study did identify a positive attitude towards nutrition based on nutrition knowledge,”  the authors added.

“The results found the existence of a significant negative relationship between attitudes towards healthy eating and nutritional knowledge. In other words, as attitude towards eating increases, nutrition knowledge among young people decreases. Furthermore, although the young people

participating in this research can have positive attitudes, but they can also decide not to engage their nutritional knowledge concerning making nutrition decisions,” they concluded.