Healthy eating habit: A role for goals, identity, and self-control?

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McCarthy, Mary
Collins, Alan M.
Flaherty, Sarah Jane
McCarthy, Sinéad N.
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Supporting healthier eating habits is crucial for improving population health outcomes. Underpinning everyday eating patterns are recurring actions that may lead to positive or negative health outcomes depending on the healthfulness of such actions. The aim of this research was to explore individual-level determinants of a healthy eating habit and consider to what extent personal goals and self-control are linked to a healthy eating habit. One thousand one hundred nine adults completed a survey focusing on a range of factors that potentially sway food choice behaviors. A structural model, developed based on a review of existing literature, was tested using self-reported healthy eating habit (Verplanken & Orbell, 2003 ) as the dependent variable. Analysis suggests that along with health-conscious identity and food hedonism, self-control was one of the strongest determinants of a healthy eating habit. Furthermore, while healthy eating goals had a direct significant effect, other goals, economizing and emotional, did not. However, all three goals along with food hedonism had a significant indirect effect that was mediated through self-control. In revealing the role of self-control, this work questions the underlying assumption of automaticity in a healthy eating habit. This leads to the questions: what is a healthy eating habit and to what extent can healthy eating behaviors ever be truly characterized as controlled by heuristics and automaticity? This analysis suggests that healthy eating is an ongoing behavioral project that requires the continued engagement of deliberative processes; thus habit within this context, and as measured using self-reported habit, may be a misnomer. The use of healthy eating routines, as opposed to habits, may be more appropriate to acknowledge the role of both automatic and deliberative processes with self-control being central in everyday decision making. Important practical and theoretical implications are discussed along with potential approaches for health and food sectors to support healthier eating behavior in the future.
Automaticity , Goals , Habit , Healthy eating , Identity , Self-control , Food choice questionnaire , Planned behavior , Past behavior , Consumption , Consumers , Motives , Interventions , Attitudes , Impulse , Life
McCarthy, M. B., Collins, A. M., Flaherty, S. J. and McCarthy, S. N. (2017) 'Healthy eating habit: A role for goals, identity, and self-control?', Psychology & Marketing, 34(8), pp. 772-785. doi: 10.1002/mar.21021
© 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: McCarthy, MB, Collins, AM, Flaherty, SJ, McCarthy, SN. Healthy eating habit: A role for goals, identity and self-control?. Psychol Mark. 2017; 34: 772– 785, which has been published in final form at . This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.