Eating behaviour of older adults is influenced by a complex interaction of determinants. Understanding the determinants of a specific target group is important when developing targeted health-promoting strategies. The aim of this study was to explore interpersonal determinants of eating behaviours in older adults living independently in a specific neighbourhood in the Netherlands.
In the neighbourhood of interest, populated by relatively many older adults, fifteen semi-structured interviews were conducted with independently living older adults (aged 76.9 ± 6.4y). Interviews were complemented with observations among the target group: three occasions of grocery shopping and three collective eating occasions in the neighbourhood. A thematic approach was used to analyse the qualitative data.
When we asked the older adults unprompted why they eat what they eat, the influence of interpersonal determinants did not appear directly; respondents rather mentioned individual (e.g. habits) and environmental factors (e.g. food accessibility). Key findings regarding interpersonal factors were: 1) Behaviours are shaped by someone’s context; 2) Living alone influences (determinants of) eating behaviour via multiple ways; 3) There is a salient norm that people do not interfere with others’ eating behaviour; 4) Older adults make limited use of social support (both formal and informal) for grocery shopping and cooking, except for organised eating activities in the neighbourhood. In this particular neighbourhood, many facilities (e.g. shops at walking distance) are present, and events (e.g. dinners) are organised with and for the target group, which likely impact (determinants of) their behaviours.
The study showed that older adults do not directly think of interpersonal factors influencing their eating behaviour, but rather of individual or environmental factors. However, multiple interpersonal factors did appear in the interviews and observations. Moreover, neighbourhood-specific factors seem to play a role, which underlines the need to understand the specific (social) setting when developing and implementing intervention programmes. Insights from this study can assist in developing health-promoting strategies for older adults, taking into account the context of the specific neighbourhood.