Factors Influencing Food Choice in the Elderly Mauritian Population
According to the official Mauritian demographic statistics the ageing society is a fast growing segment of the Mauritian population. This particular age group is most susceptible to many health risks from a nutrient poor diet. There are multiple interacting factors: individual (personal), social and environmental that influence eating behaviors. Therefore, public health professionals need to be aware of the importance of these factors influencing food choice in order to help people make healthful food and beverage choices necessary for maintaining an optimal health status in the elderly. Studies assessing past and current overall dietary patterns are limited in the elderly in Mauritius. To address this lack of information, a nutritional study was conducted to investigate the various possible factors and their relative importance in influencing food choices and thus food intake of the elderly people in Mauritius. A cross-sectional nutritional survey was carried out in different regions around the island in December 2004. A random sample (n=60) of the elderly population (58+ years) was interviewed face to face. A food-frequency questionnaire (FFQ) was administered to assess the food choice and dietary intake of the elderly. The FFQ included questions pertaining to the investigation of the degree of importance which various factors such as taste of food, routine, media, culture, ease of food availability, company or peer at meal times and nutritional knowledge had on the food choice of the elderly participants. Five degrees of importance were allocated: “extremely important”, “very important”, “important”, “slightly important” and “not important at all” to which quantitative scores were attributed. Overall scores reflecting the relative degree of importance of the 7 factors were calculated by summing up the five categories together. The statistical analysis of data revealed that the order of importance of the factors that influenced food choice was culture (93.3 %) followed by taste (90.0%), routine (85.1%), nutritional knowledge (75.0%) and ease of food availability (71.7%). Company or peer at meal times and media accounted for only 31.7% and 11.6 %, respectively. Only the factor of taste influencing food choice was significantly different between the two sexes (significant value=0.02, p<0.05). Considering our results and knowing that food choices influence food intake considerably, care providers need to consider all factors involved in the total environment of the senior citizens to ensure adequate nutrition in the elderly. Cultural background and taste are most important factors to be respected in this population. The factor “routine” influences food choice to a larger extent than “nutritional knowledge”, suggesting that nutrition education need to be provided to this section of the population to promote varied food intake. Recognition of social and health factors associated with the elderly nutritional status will allow appropriate intervention to enhance the quality of life of the elderly.
Keywords: Food choice, factors, elderly, Mauritius