Food-related health perceptions and food habits among older women


  • Kerstin Gustafsson MSc RN,

  • Birgitta Sidenvall PhD RNT

Kerstin Gustafsson, Department of Public Health  and Caring Sciences, Uppsala University, Uppsala Science Park, Dag Hammarsköldsväg 10B, S-751 83 Uppsala, Sweden. E-mail:


Aim.  The aim of the present study was to explore food-related health perceptions and food habits among older women.

Background.  Food-related health promotion has its main focus on disease prevention. With a holistic perspective on health, social and psychological aspects also need to be considered for total wellbeing.

Methods.  Qualitative interviews, representing an ethnographic approach, were carried out with 18 women, aged 65–88, living alone or cohabiting, who independently managed shopping and cooking. Interviews were conducted at the women's homes, and analysed for coherent themes. The women also gave data on three days' eating and drinking in a food diary.

Findings.  Two themes were found: ‘A healthy slimming meal or the usual’ and ‘Meals – a pleasure or an obligation’. The first theme summarized the women's health perceptions related to food, where the dominating view was fear of fat. Some also had a bad conscience about not eating according to recommendations. Use of low-fat products was not a predominant habit among these women. In the second theme, meals in fellowship were perceived as a pleasure, while women living alone tended to simplify cooking and eating. This was also reflected in their food habits, with fewer cooked meals, as well as events with coffee with cakes, compared with cohabiting women.

Conclusions.  Food-related health promotion must pay more attention to women living alone. Women who have lost their partners, may be at risk for poor nutritional intake as they often simplified the entire meal situation, while cohabiting women perceived food and cooking as a central task in their lives. One responsibility for nurses working in the community is to recognize and assess older women's deficient eating habits, assess them and plan eating together with the woman to prevent poor nutritional intake. Relatives and community staff could also be involved in this work.