Australian adolescents’ beliefs and perceptions towards healthy eating from a symbolic and moral perspective: A qualitative study

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Abstract

Unhealthy food choices among adolescents are considered a significant health concern. Current rhetoric adds a moral dimension to food and considers adolescents as moral and healthy eaters or less moral or less healthy eaters. While much research has investigated the structural barriers and facilitators to healthy eating, minimal scholarship has investigated Australian adolescents' symbolic and moral boundary beliefs and perceptions of healthy eating from different socioeconomic statuses. Using Lamont's (1992, 2000) concept of ‘moral boundary work’ and Sayer's (2005, 2011) ideas on the moral dimensions of social class, we explore Australian adolescents' beliefs and perceptions towards healthy eating from a symbolic and moral boundary perspective. The study consisted of seven focus groups interviews (N = 27) with Australian adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 (10 male, 17 female) across three different socioeconomic status secondary schools. An inductive thematic analysis approach was adopted to analyse the data. Adolescents associated healthy eating with 1) beliefs and perceptions, 2) moral judgement, and 3) ethical eating and food sustainability priorities. Overall, adolescents constructed and applied their own moral and symbolic meanings to healthy eating. Furthermore, adolescents exerted their moral boundaries by comparing their food choices with their families and peers. Current research is mixed if adolescents from low socioeconomic status positions engage in moral boundary work. This study makes an original contribution by introducing how Australian adolescents interpret healthy eating across socioeconomic status positions. The findings from the study suggest that Australian adolescents across a range of socioeconomic statuses do and can be engaged in moral boundary work and demonstrated a sense of self-worth and dignity regarding their dietary practices.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105913
Number of pages10
JournalAppetite
Volume171
Early online date10 Jan 2022
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Jan 2022

Keywords

  • Australia
  • Adolescents
  • Food choice
  • Healthy eating
  • Socio-economic status
  • Moral boundary work
  • School food

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