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How Couples Living Together Influence Each Other’s Food Behaviors Abstract It has been established in numerous studies

that people who are in a relationship and are sharing a home together have an impact on each other’s choices in regards to food. Research on this subject is important because much of the population is living with others especially in the form of a couple and food is of universal importance. So far the research on the topic seems to suggest that there are common themes in relation to how couples influence each other’s food behaviors. Participants were chosen based on being acquaintances with the researcher, being in a relationship, and living together. The research was done in comfortable settings. The Results support the theory that there are recurring themes in relation to food. All informants agreed that purchasing and preparing food is a shared responsibility based on different factors such as availability. All informants believe they have either been a positive or a negative influence on their partner’s food behaviors. A Meta-analysis of the current research would be very useful in discovering further similarities between couples and their food selection. Homosexual couples have been left out of most research. More research on this population is also needed as it is a growing population. Introduction This research was done to answer how couples living together influence each other’s selection of food. The research is looking to answer how couples in a long-term relationship living together divide the food labor. Food labor is all of the work that goes into creating meals such as: planning what food to eat, buying the supplies necessary to make those meals, and the actual preparation and cleanup for the meal. Do people’s attitudes change from when they are

single to when they become involved in a relationship serious enough for them to be living together? If they do change what did their partner or their relationship have to do with that? What foods have couples living together stopped or started eating because of influence from their partner? This topic is important because many people live with domestic partners. Also, food is a universal need and directly related to an individual’s health. Insight into how relationships impact food selection, consumption, and general habits would be useful to Nutrition and other health related fields in creating health interventions and beneficial in other ways yet unknown. It would be beneficial to know how living in a couple might affect a couple’s view of healthy eating. From research such as from the studies referenced below, domestic partners have been shown to impose definite influence on their partner in regards to food. Literature Review
One study on the topic of couple’s food behaviors and attitudes is a qualitative study conducted on 34 Australian heterosexual couples living together in rural areas of Australia. This study focused on how couples affect each other’s eating habits because they are interested in the fact that parents influence their children’s food selection. The researches wanted to look into how parents are influenced about food to gain further insight into how that might be affecting the way they influence their children in regards to food. In the results they found that nostalgia, tradition, balance, health, family, togetherness, and sociality were the most important factors in the decisions couples made about food. (Lupton, 2000) Another study which helped develop the research topic was conducted in New York by Cornell. This study looked into the food habits and distribution of food work of newly married couples. The common factors they found surrounding food labor distribution were their partners’ enjoyment of cooking, prior food work experiences, employment responsibilities, and feedback about one’s cooking from one’s partner. (Bove & Sobal, 2006)

Another similar study of Scottish couples recently married or living together compared the affect of eating meals together and splitting up food work as couples compared to when the individuals were single. The main difference they found was that the evening meal gained significantly more importance when the individuals were in a couple compared to when they were single. (Anderson & Marshall 2002)

The research seems to suggest that for the most part, whether an individual is living in New York, Australia, or Scotland there seems to be common themes and sentiments related to food occurring. Also similar factors seem to play a role in shaping couple’s food behaviors such as age, experience cooking, and who gets home first. It would be beneficial to look further into the factors that influence couples and find out if the data are similar to previous studies or vary significantly. Methods Students or people in the community living in a couple were selected if they were acquaintances of the researcher. They needed to be living with a significant other. They were known to the researcher in order to build rapport and allow for detailed and frank discussion about their partner’s involvement in influencing their food selection and behaviors related to food. Four people (two couples) were chosen to discuss their perceptions of how their relationship influences their attitudes about food, behaviors in regards to food, and selection of food. Each individual was interviewed separate from their significant other to yield unbiased responses. The individuals were interviewed in a quiet and comfortable space to encourage a relaxed discussion involving their relationship’s influence on their food habits. All responses were handwritten at the time of the interviews. The interviews took about 35 to 40 minutes to obtain the desired information.

The interviews of Informants 1 and 2 occurred March 19th 6:00am in the researcher’s apartment in Chico, CA. The couple came together, but each partner was interviewed separately in the researcher’s bedroom while the other stayed in the living room and talked with the researcher’s domestic partner. A closed door separated the interviewee from their partner. The interviews of Informant 3 and 4 occurred March 29th starting at 6pm at Informant 3 and 4’s apartment in Chico, CA. The researcher brought their domestic partner along so he could talk with the individual that was not being interviewed. The Informants are acquaintances of the researcher and everyone was comfortable with each other. Informant 1 is a female aged 29 years who is an assistant at a plastic surgery office. She has been in a relationship with her current partner for two years and she is currently living with him. They have definite plans to be married when they are financially stable. Her partner is Informant 2. He is a white male aged 30 years and is currently unemployed. He had a high paying job before he was laid off and his unemployment rate is high so financially they are doing ok until he finds a job but they feel they could be doing better. Informant 3 and Informant 4 have been married for at least six years. They have two children aged 6 and 3; one from Informant 3’s previous marriage and one they conceived together respectively. Informant 3 is also a 29 year old female who is going to Butte College to become a nurse. Informant 4 is a 30 year old male going to CSU Chico to become a Dietician. Informants 3 sand 4 have served in the army and are both still in school and working. They are financially stable. Below is a list of the questions posed to the informants.   Have the ways in which you prepare food changed from being single now that you are in a relationship? Have your attitudes towards food changed from being single to being in a relationship? Probe: How? Why?

    

What are your partner’s attitudes towards food? Are they different from yours? Is one person primarily responsible for shopping for food or deciding what to eat? Probe: Why is that? Is one person primarily responsible for preparing the food? Probe: Why is that? Have you tried new foods or adopted new foods into your diet since being in a relationship? Probe: What did your partner have to do with that? Have you influenced your partner’s selection of food, attitudes towards food, or behaviors in regards to food throughout the duration of the relationship?

The questions were not necessarily said verbatim but were used as a guide to direct the discussion to address specific research topics. Notes were jotted down on paper with the questions below for reference. Later the evening after the interviews were over the notes were turned into paraphrased segments based on the researcher’s memory of the interviews and the penciled notes. After the notes were written they were coded using edge coding and a matrix was used to display common themes. These themes were compared against the referenced literature on the subject. Results and Discussion Relationship versus kids All of the studies referenced found that the relationship changed the eating habits of people compared to their habits when they were single. Informants 1 and 2 do not have kids and they believe that their current relationship affects their eating. Informant 1 shared that her food preparation behaviors have “drastically” changed since she began her relationship with her partner. Informant 2 shared that when he was single, cost was a strong deciding factor in which food to buy. He said, “Now I’m more lenient on cost if it’s healthy because my partner likes healthy food.” Informants that have kids are influenced more by their kids than by each other. When asked if the relationship influenced her eating habits Informant 3 stated, “No the relationship

didn’t influence the eating as much as the kids.” Both informants that had kids (Informants 3 and 4) agreed that having kids made them eat better. Informant 3 said, “Kids have influenced us by making us cook, otherwise I would not cook.” And Informant 4 added to the sentiment by saying “If we didn’t have kids we would eat much worse.” None of the previous studies listed kids as being an influencing factor. Further research could be done into how kids affect parent’s food behaviors.

Figure 1

Couples with Children Couples without Children

Influenced by

 

Children

Relationship

Influenced by

Food Attitudes All of the food attitudes of the informants were different from their partner’s attitudes at the start of the relationship. For Informant 1 health was the most important factor when deciding what food to buy while Informant 2 said, “I take into account taste, cost, and clean-up when I’m deciding what to make.” Informant 3 explained that her partner, “relies on comfort food and food is not comforting to me.” (Informant 3’s father was very negative towards food mainly concerning junk food and overeating). All of the informants initially had different attitudes than their partners towards food but as their relationships have progressed they have worked towards reaching common values in relation to food. Informant 1 and 2 in a combined effort have both moved towards adding foods

that are healthier into their diets such as adding foods that are spicy. Informant 3 and 4 (because of their children) have moved towards having meals that are “more family oriented and of actual quality.” The previous research found Informant 3 and 4’s sentiment of sociality to be common. (Lupton, 2000) Figure 2

Before Relationship Had different beliefs about foods

Now that they are in a Relationship Working towards achieving common values
Food Preparation and Shopping Responsibilities While all of the informants believed that food preparation was a shared responsibility, two of the informants had prime responsibility of the task. The reasons shared about why the responsibility was split were for scheduling, cooking ability. In regards to schedule being the deciding factor for the division of preparation Informant 1 shared that her partner will “cook more often for me because he is not working and I am.” Her partner Informant 2 simply stated, “I am responsible for preparing the food. . . She cooks every once in awhile but I am the one who mainly prepares the food.” Informant 3 also touched on schedule in her statements. “I cook especially with this semester’s schedule because he’s not home as much as I am. Whoever is home prepares the food mainly.” On the same topic Informant 4 discussed schedules and food preparation responsibilities, “She’s responsible 85% of the time right now. It depends on our school schedules. She’s on break so that’s why she’s the

one who’s mainly cooking right now. It’s normally whoever’s there.” These findings are consistent with the study by (Bove & Scoval, 2006). All informants agreed that shopping for food was a shared responsibility although Informant 3 currently does most of it because her school is on break and her partner Informant 4 is busy with school and work more than she is. Figure 3

Busy Schedule = less Cooking Informant 1 (female) Informant 4 (male)

*

Less busy schedule = More Cooking Informant 2 (male) Informant 3 (female)

*Arrows represent that if schedules were to change so would the cooking responsibilities.

Influencing Partners Positively or Negatively Informants 1 and 4 believe that they have been a positive influence on their partner’s food behaviors. Informant 1 has influenced her partner by “urging him to try new things” because he is/was a simple and picky eater. She has broadened his horizons in terms of food. Before her he was resistant to trying new foods. Her partner (Informant 2) also believes she has been a positive influence and said, “I’ve always known I need to eat better, being with her has

expedited the process. She has definitely played a big part in changing that [his unhealthy and picky eating].” Informant 4 believes he has been a positive influence by bringing better food safety practices to their home and by providing nutrition education to her which he learns from his major. Informants 2 and 3 believe that they have been a negative influence on their partner’s food behaviors. Informant 2 believes this because he has added foods to his partner’s diet that were less healthy than what she ate before. He said, “I have influenced her [Informant 1] in a negative way by having foods higher in fats around. Informant 1 agrees that he has been a bad influence on her. Informant 3 believes she is too critical of her partner’s decisions to have foods high in fat or sugar. She said, “In my opinion yes I have influenced him in regards to eating junk food and fried food. I nag him about eating anything fried, chips, or candy. I left for a trip one time for a couple of days and he completely gorged himself on these foods. I am trying to be less judgmental though.” None of the previous studies referenced looked into positive and negative influences couples can have or believe they have on each other.

Figure 4

Positive Influence on Their Partner • Informant 1 (female) • Informant 4 (male)

Negative Influence on Their Partner • Informant 2 (male) • Informant 3 (female)

Trying New Foods

All but one informant (Informant 3 who has a negative view on food and does not enjoy food because of her upbringing) believed that their partner influenced them to try at least one new food. Informant 2 was the only participant to state that they actually adopted the new food as one of their regular foods. Limitations Limitations to the study include small sample size consisting of only four people all of whom were direct acquaintances of mine. The study only includes heterosexual white couples and does not provide any data on homosexual domestic partners or couples of non-white or mixed races. The females were 29 years old and the males were 30 years old. The sample population was very similar (all the same age, all Caucasian, all of the same sexual orientation, and all acquaintances of mine) and not diverse or large enough to gain the best data. The field notes were jotted down during the interview. The informants were asked to speak slowly and the notes were paraphrased later. Using an audio-tape and transcribing the results later would have been more precise. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS It has been established that partners have a direct influence on one another. Ways in which couples influence each other are in types of food they eat, trying new foods, when they eat, and the specific food work that they do within the partnership. Couples make these decisions based on various factors such as previous food work experience and schedules. It was found that the couples believed that food preparation and shopping was a shared responsibility although they may split these tasks up based on various factors. All of the couples thought they were either a positive or negative influence on their partner’s food choices.

A question regarding how often the couples ate take-out foods or ordered foods at restaurants would be added to the study if it was to be done again. If more research was to be done on this topic it would be beneficial to perform a qualitative study summarizing the various data already available on the topic of couples’ food selection and behaviors. It would be useful to see if there are any trends occurring in certain populations around the world or certain factors such as gender, ethnicity, age, health, or weight plays any part in couples’ food behaviors. Conducting research on homosexual domestic partners would provide information about a growing population which little research on this topic has been done thus far. Comparing and contrasting studies on single people living alone or homosexual domestic partners to heterosexual couples living together would help evaluate the extent to which being in a couple versus being single influences food behaviors.

References

Lupton, D. (2000). The heart of the meal: food preferences and habits among rural australian couples. Sociology of Health and Wellness, 22(1), 94-109.

Bove, C. F., & Sobal, J. (2006). Foodwork in newly married couples. Food, Culture & Society, 9(I), 69-90.

Anderson, A. S., & Marshall, D. W. (2002). Propermeals in transition: youngmarried couples on the nature of eating together. Appetite, 39, 193-206. Retrieved from http://www.idealibrary.com