The Influence of Perceived Body Image, Vanity and Personal Values on Food Consumption and Related Behaviour

Article excerpt

Although food is a vital part of the chemical process of life, the manner in which people choose the foods that they eat is subject to a wide variety of external and internal influences. This study employed a sequential mixed method research design to investigate the influence of perceived body image, vanity and personal values on food purchasing behaviour among 18- to 30-year-old females. It was found that although personal values and orientation have a major influence on the food purchasing and consumption process, vanity, physical health and perceived body image were major factors of influence in the purchasing and consumption decision.


Although food is an essential component of life's chemical processes, the manner in which people choose the foods that they eat is subject to a wide variety of external and internal influences, ranging from sociocultural conditioning to the effects of the media and a variety of marketing campaigns (Chang, 1977; Getley, 1995; Keane & Willetts, 1994; Pyke, 1970; Visser, 1992). In Australia, the issues of weight, health, diet and exercise receive constant media attention, as well as governmental focus at both state and federal levels. Despite the intensity of media messages, however, little work has been undertaken on the effects of perceived body image on food purchasing and related behaviour. The aim of this study was to examine the influence of this construct among young women in the age range of 18 to 30 years. The study chose to concentrate on women in this age group because previous studies have found that this market segment has considerable spending power (Hall, Babubaka, & Oppenheim, 2001) and that women may be more susceptible to the influence of health and nutritional messages than are their male counterparts (Raats, Dallant-Spinner, Deliza, & McFie, 1995).

The connection between food choice and perceived body image is proposed by Thompson (1997), while Rozin (1996) explains the link between body image ideals and the amount of food ingested, advising that body weight is a modulating force in the amount and type of food that is eaten. In addition, Netemeyer, Burton and Lichtenstein (1995) advise that vanity has important marketing and consumer implications while human values '... provide potentially powerful explanations of human behaviour' (Wagner, Kamakura & Mazzon, 1991, p. 208). As a result, it was felt that by focusing in some depth on the impact of these three interrelated constructs on the food consumption and related behaviour of young women, valuable insights could be provided for the food service industry.

Literature Review

According to Rozin (2000) very little is known about why consumers choose one food over another or about the influence of body image in the food consumption process. Body image is described by Thompson (1993) as '... the picture of our own body which we form in our mind, that is to say, the way in which the body appears to ourselves' (p. 52). Lightstone (1999) advises that body image is psychological in nature, involving perception, imagination, emotions and physical sensations. As a result, it is sensitive to changes in mood, environment and physical experience, and is heavily influenced by self-esteem.

While Thompson (1997) acknowledges the impact of psychological processes in the formation of perceived body image, he asserts that the media plays a significant role in the formation of people's perceptions of what is acceptable. Noting a trend in popular women's magazines towards increasing slenderness of models, as well as an increase in articles and advertisements addressing dietary issues, he concludes that this has provided women with the ideal body image goal. Moreover, Thompson asserts that 'the popularity of television, movies, and magazines allows the media to be among the most influential and efficacious communicators of the thin ideal' (1997, p. 37).

Netemeyer et al. …