Writing in the journal Appetite, the South American team noted that interest in understanding how foods affect consumers’ perceived wellbeing has grown in the last decade due to the increasing need to modify dietary patterns. The team analysed data from 120 consumers, finding that food-related wellbeing is strongly associated with physical health, but also has strong hedonic and emotional aspects.
"Considering that wellbeing is a broad concept that lacks of a unique definition, in order to use and measure this concept it is necessary to explore how consumers understand it, particularly in the context of food consumption," wrote the authors, led by Gastón Ares from the Universidad de la República in Uruguay.
According to the group's findings, food-related wellbeing is complex, but is mainly related to physical health, body functioning, intellectual capacity, positive emotions and social contact and relationships.
"This type of study can contribute to the construction of scales to measure perceived wellbeing when consuming food products by providing valuable information to select the specific dimensions to be considered when measuring food-related wellbeing," said Ares and his colleagues.
However, the team noted that because the study group was purely from Uruguay, their results may be 'bound to the sociocultural background of that region' - noting that further work from other cultures and geographies are needed to overcome such limitations.
Ares and his team investigated consumer perception of wellbeing in a food-related context using an exploratory qualitative approach. The study was carried out with 120 Uruguayan participants using three qualitative techniques: word association, open-ended questions and free listing.
The team reported that in a food-related context wellbeing was strongly associated with physical health - with the expected effects of foods on wellbeing mainly related to non-communicable diseases such as high cholesterol levels, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases.
"However, hedonic and emotional aspects of food consumption were also salient for consumers perceived wellbeing," noted the team - adding that the categories 'Quietness, Happiness, Rest, Pleasure, Comfort, and Equilibrium' were mentioned by a large proportion of participants, "which indicates the relevance of emotional aspects for subjective wellbeing."
"Participants also associated wellbeing with Personal fulfillment and Fun, which can be related to intellectual wellbeing, i.e. creative and stimulating mental activities," they added.
Indeed, Ares and his team concluded that their participants’ conceptualisation of wellbeing in a food-related context was in agreement with their conceptualization of wellbeing in a general context.
"Uruguayan participants regarded food-related wellbeing as a complex construct, which is strongly associated with physical health, body functioning and quality of life, and also to other specific dimensions of wellbeing such as psychological and intellectual aspects."
They added that the characteristics of foods that affect their wellbeing were related to sensory characteristics, nutritional composition, ingredients and manufacturing processes - noting that sensory characteristics were found to be the most relevant category when participants were asked to write down the characteristics of foods that contribute to their wellbeing.
"This result stresses the relevance of sensory and hedonic aspects to food-related wellbeing and is in agreement with several studies, which have shown that consumers are not willing to compromise the sensory characteristics of food products for potential benefits to their health," they concluded.
Volume 74, 1 March 2014, Pages 61–69, doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2013.11.017
“Food and wellbeing. Towards a consumer-based approach”
Authors: Gastón Ares, Luis De Saldamando, Ana Giménez, Rosires Deliza