Perceived Time Pressure and Recommended Dietary Practices: The Moderating Effect of Knowledge of Nutrition

Article excerpt

For increasing numbers of people, time is a major constraint. Robinson (1990) indicated that over the past two decades, an increasing proportion of the population has come to perceive themselves as time pressed. Time pressures have become a regular part of everyday life. As a result, consumers have begun implementing strategies for reducing these pressures (Berry 1979; Nickols and Fox 1983; Strober and Weinberg 1980), while firms have increased their emphasis on the ability of their products to economize on time (Gross and Sheth 1989).

There is evidence that time pressures affect the types of information used in decisionmaking (Wallsten and Barton 1982; Wright 1974). Time pressure has also been found to affect the sources and amount of nutrition information search (Feick, Herrmann, and Warland 1986) as well as eating habits and shopping behaviors (Bellante and Foster 1984; Berry 1979; Holman and Wilson 1982; Iyer 1989; Jackson, McDaniel, and Rao 1985; Nickols and Fox 1983; Park, Iyer, and Smith 1989; Strober and Weinberg 1980).

Two research questions were of concern in this study. First, what is the effect of time pressure on dietary quality? Dietary quality means including fruits, vegetables, and fiber in the diet and avoiding or limiting consumption of potentially harmful food constituents as fats, cholesterol, and sodium. The potentially negative effects of time pressure on eating habits and diet quality are of particular concern given the growing body of evidence linking the quality of dietary intake to health (National Research Council 1989). Second, can nutritional knowledge and perceptions of health risks mitigate the negative effects of time pressure on eating habits and dietary quality? Specifically, can nutritional knowledge and/or perceptions of health risks override time pressure so that, even under time pressure, people will eat a relatively high quality diet if they are knowledgeable about nutrition and/or perceive high health risks from poor dietary intake?

BACKGROUND

Although the popular press has attributed the demise of dietary quality to increasing time pressure (The Wall Street Journal 1988), relatively little research has investigated this relationship. Research on time constraints and eating behavior has focused almost entirely on the link between wives' employment status and use of convenience food items and eating out (Bellante and Foster 1984; Jackson, McDaniel, and Rao 1985; Nickols and Fox 1983; Reilly 1982; Schaninger and Allen 1981; Strober and Weinberg 1980). This line of research began with Becker (1965) who suggested that increases in the value of time associated with employment outside the home should lead to increased use of more expensive convenience food items that economize on time.

In general, research suggests that employment outside the home leads to increased frequency of eating out and a reduction in the time spent preparing meals. However, there is little support for the hypothesis that employment outside the home leads to greater use of convenience food items. In fact, Schaninger and Allen (1981) found that households with wives in high status occupations often consumed convenience food items less frequently than any other group. Two possible explanations exist for this lack of association. First, because perceptions of time pressure are caused by many factors, employment outside the home alone may not be sufficient to cause severe time pressure. Recognizing this shortcoming, Reilly (1982) modeled convenience food consumption as a direct result of role overload, a measure of perceived overall time pressure. Reilly found directional support for the hypothesis that those who feel more overload are more likely to use convenience food items.

Second, while researchers have investigated the main effect of employment (and hence time pressure), few researchers have considered possible moderator variables. Therefore, individual differences in abilities and resources and perceptions of health risks may have confounded the results. …