Emotional eating: How do the elderly feel about food?


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Understanding elderly people's emotions about eating could help develop more tailored communication strategies and products, the researchers said
Understanding elderly people's emotions about eating could help develop more tailored communication strategies and products, the researchers said

Related tags Emotion Food

The food industry is failing to tailor foods to the elderly – and recognising their various needs and wants could help companies develop more successful products, according to a new study.

Researchers at Wageningen UR said that the elderly too often were seen as a homogenous group by food companies. As the population ages, product developers and marketers should consider the specific emotional needs and preferences of older people.

In a study published in the journal Appetite, ​the researchers identified four consumer segments among vital Dutch elderly people living in the community, based on their emotional responses to mealtimes.

“Previous research into the eating habits of elderly people paid very little attention to emotions, despite the fact that the emotional aspect seems to become more important as people age,”​ said Louise den Uijl, a PhD in the university’s Consumer Science and Health group.

Four emotional segments

The study’s authors identified four segments, which they dubbed ‘pleasurable averages’, ‘adventurous arousals’, ‘convivial indulgers’, and ‘indifferent restrictives’. 

‘Pleasurable averages’ was the largest segment, accounting for about half of the 392 study participants. According to the researchers, this consumer “has only moderate emotions towards her mealtimes. She thinks that health and taste are important and she tries new things once in a while, but she is not looking for culinary surprises.”

About a quarter fell into the ‘adventurous arousals’ segment, referring to those who enjoy their meals and look forward to seeing new things on their plate, while 12.5% were ‘convivial indulgers’, defined as placing greater emphasis on the people they eat with than on special treats, and 12.5% were ‘indifferent restrictives’, meaning those who are not very interested in what they eat.

This last group associates mealtimes with negative emotions, and is most at risk of malnourishment.

The segmentation was based on questionnaires related to respondents’ emotions around mealtimes, the function of the meal (whether for health, pleasure or habit, for example), and assessed whether they were fussy or neophobic about food.

Tailored products and marketing

“Surprisingly, the four clusters differed mainly in their emotional associations with mealtimes, although the psychographic characteristics of the clusters were roughly comparable,”​ the researchers wrote.

“The older persons differed only slightly in their health and taste attitudes. The health and taste attitudes ‘general health interest’ and ‘pleasure’ were indicated as most important attitudes, especially by Convivial indulgers, whereas ‘reward’, ‘craving’, ‘interest in light products’ and ‘interest in natural products’ were found less important for the current older population.”

They added that better segmentation of the elderly population could be used to develop more tailored products and communication strategies for older people.


Source: Appetite

Vol. 83, 1 December 2014, pp. 287–296 DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2014.09.002

“It is not just a meal, it is an emotional experience – A segmentation of older persons based on the emotions that they associate with mealtimes”

Authors: Louise C. den Uijl, Gerry Jager, Cees de Graaf, Jason Waddell, Stefanie Kremer

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