Food and eating as social practice--understanding eating patterns as social phenomena and implications for public health

Sociol Health Illn. 2009 Mar;31(2):215-28. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2008.01128.x. Epub 2009 Feb 3.


Globally, public health agencies recognise obesity trends among populations as a priority. Explanations for population obesity patterns are linked to obesogenic environments and societal trends which encourage patterns of overeating and little physical activity. However, obesity prevention and nutrition intervention focus predominantly on changing individual level eating behaviours. Disappointingly, behaviour-based nutrition education approaches to changing population eating patterns have met with limited success. Sociological perspectives propose that underlying social relations can help explain collective food and eating patterns, and suggest an analysis of the sociocultural context for understanding population eating patterns. We propose a theoretical framework for the examination of eating patterns as social phenomena. Giddens' structuration theory, in particular his concept of social practices understood as an interplay of 'agency' and 'social structure' (rules and resources), is used to study food choice patterns. We discuss the application of these concepts for understanding routine food choice practices of families, elaborating how rules and resources configure the enabling or constraining conditions under which actors make food choices. The framework assists in characterising how social structural properties are integral to food choice practices, and could direct attention to these when considering nutrition interventions aimed at changing population eating patterns.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Public Health*
  • Social Environment*
  • Social Marketing*