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How would you define healthy food? Social representations of Brazilian, French and Spanish dietitians and young laywomen

de Moraes Prata Gaspar, Maria Clara, Garcia, Araceli Muñoz, Larrea-Killinger, Cristina
Appetite 2020 v.153 pp. 104728
dietitians, healthy diet, healthy eating habits, industrialization, interviews, nationalities and ethnic groups, nutrients, politics, professionals
The perception that food affects our health has increased over the past fifty years in industrialised Western countries. The notion of “healthy food” has become ubiquitous in medical, political, and media discourse as well as in the discourses of the lay population. This study seeks to understand the social representations of “healthy food” of Brazilian, Spanish and French dietitians and young laywomen. A qualitative and comparative methodology based on 131 individual semi-structured interviews was set up. According to the analysis of the discourses, the notion of “healthy food” is ambivalent and polysemic. Scientific-nutritional rationality is not the only way to think about “healthy food”. Two main ways of categorising “healthy foods” are observed in the three countries. They are based on eating analysis criteria that referred to diverse value systems and different scientific, symbolic and moral rationalities: on the one hand, a physiological, nutritional and functional conception, and on the other, an “eco-ideological” conception that took into account production, culture and distribution methods. Though dietitians have a greater technical knowledge of nutrients and metabolic processes than laywomen, professionals and young laywomen, mainly within the same nationality, shared similar discourses concerning the notion of “healthy food”, revealing patterns that differentiate each nationality. Taking together, the results reveal that although medical-nutritional discourses are disseminated internationally, discourses on “healthy food” are constructed taking into account social, cultural, symbolic and moral dimensions. These discourses are linked to a historical and sociocultural context.