Intuitive eating is positively associated with indicators of physical and mental health among rural Australian adults

Aust J Rural Health. 2022 Aug;30(4):468-477. doi: 10.1111/ajr.12856. Epub 2022 Mar 3.

Abstract

Introduction: Rural Australians have comparatively higher rates of overweight and obesity, as well as some mental health issues. Intuitive eating has been shown to be positively associated with an array of physical and mental health indicators. Few studies, however, have been conducted with general populations, and none has explicitly examined intuitive eating among rural residents.

Objective: To investigate the prevalence of intuitive eating, and associations between intuitive eating and indicators of physical and mental health, among a general population of rural adults.

Design: Cross-sectional telephone survey of 200 randomly selected, non-metropolitan, English-speaking Australian residents aged 18 or older.

Findings: The prevalence of intuitive eating in the sample was 17.6%, with a higher level of intuitive eating among men than women (26.1% vs 9.1%). Bivariate associations between intuitive eating and each of the six health indicators were all positive and mostly statistically significant. Particularly strong was the correlation between intuitive eating and self-esteem for women (r = 0.53). After controlling for indication of an eating disorder and demographics, the associations between intuitive eating and the outcome variables held for body mass index (BMI), psychological distress and body esteem for men, and for BMI and self-esteem for women. Post hoc analyses found that BMI did not moderate the relationship for women between intuitive eating and self-esteem and that body esteem mediates the relationships between intuitive eating and BMI and psychological distress for men, and between intuitive eating and self-esteem for women.

Discussion: Consistent with most prior research, this study finds that intuitive eating is positively associated with several indicators of both physical and mental health among non-metropolitan residents in Australia. Practice of intuitive eating in this population, however, is low. These findings may help allied health professionals guide rural populations to better health, and may be a particularly effective approach for people for whom the barriers to seeking out health services are high.

Conclusion: Intuitive eating appears to have substantial correlations with mental health indicators, and to some extent, physical health indicators, among rural Australians and therefore should be further investigated for its potential to inform public health policy targeted to similar populations.

Keywords: body mass index; intuitive eating; mental health; obesity; self-esteem.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Rural Population*