Different cultures have different belief systems that primarily affect the continuity of the given cultural group. Cultures consist of several elements – values, customs and habits acquired at early childhood stages and practised throughout an individual’s life. According to Crowley et al. (2019), one of the earliest cultural aspects is food and nutritional habits, a form of retaining cultural identity. Food and nutritional habits are also considered to express love, interaction, social intimacy and emotional association. Certain foods are frequently consumed as compared to others; other foods are reserved for special ceremonies and events, while others are consumed as a symbol of marking a social position in the culture. This may result in different health outcomes among individuals, whereby risky nutritional habits often result in adverse health outcomes. Further analysis of high-risk nutritional practices focuses on nutritional behaviours among several cultures, historical perspectives and belief systems that influence the high-risk nutritional behaviours and the role of healthcare providers in availing healthcare services to individuals with high-risk behaviours.
High-Risk Nutritional Behaviors
Nutritional behaviours in different cultures, either healthy or unhealthy, are primarily influenced by socioeconomic factors, food availability, education, and belief systems. A significant high-risk nutritional behaviour observed across the globe is obesity. Healthcare specialists define obesity as a health condition experienced by excessive consumption of calories leading to an increased risk of diabetes and heart-related illnesses (Crowley et al., 2019). Cultures with high obesity prevalence include individuals in the United States, France, the UK, and North and Southern Africa.
United States, France, UK
Obesity rates in France, the United States and the UK have increased steadily over the past ten years. According to OECD (2019), one in 10 countries is obese, with the rate projected to increase by approximately 10% in the next ten years. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reveal that obesity prevalence in the countries is primarily influenced by factors such as socio-economic aspects and education, whereby poorly educated individuals from low-income backgrounds are three times more likely to be obese as compared to highly educated individuals from high-income backgrounds (OECD, 2019). Differences in obesity prevalence in the countries reveal that approximately 7% of the population in France is obese, 15% of Americans are obese, and 9% of the total population in the UK is overweight (OECD, 2019). Regarding obesity-related factors, obesity prevalence among men is significantly higher in the countries compared to women, with notable variance in income, exercise and alcohol consumption.
North Africa, Southern Africa
A common high-risk nutritional practice among individuals from North and Southern African countries is hypoglycemia, which results from low blood sugar levels. Hypoglycemia is commonly experienced in the regions due to food scarcity challenges. Common symptoms of the condition include anxiety, general body weakness, confusion, seizures and heart failures experienced from the severity of the condition. Cultural intervention among individuals living in the regions is crucial in identifying favourable dietary habits in modifying this unhealthy behaviour.
Historical Perspectives and Belief Systems
Nutritional practices are primarily influenced by cultural belief systems that affect how individuals prepare, consume and seek advice regarding healthy dietary habits. Based on the culture-nutrition hypothesis, it is evident that geographical aspects are a crucial factor to consider when determining the needs of a given population, thus a crucial element in the identification of the nutrition needs of the given culture. On the other hand, belief systems play a vital role in shaping the nutritional needs of a given culture, despite the resulting health outcomes. Critical historical perspectives analyzed include Ancient Greece and Middle-Age Europe, Modern Western culture and underdeveloped nations.
Ancient Greece and Middle Age Europe
Historical beliefs of Ancient Greece and Middle Age Europeans revealed that obesity and associated excessive weight gain was a common practice indicating wealth and prosperity among the cultures. According to Sibal (2018), early photographic images and paintings displayed women as curvaceous and appeared more attractive than women with smaller bodies. On the other hand, muscular men were considered wealthy and prestigious in society. In Ancient Greece, food availability was considered a significant factor in distinguishing between high and low-class individuals, making high food consumption a desirable nutritional practice among the cultures.
Modern Western Culture
Historical beliefs tend to differ between different cultures, thus affecting their nutritional behaviour. In the western culture, the primary diet consumed includes red meat and sodium, which are, in turn, attributed to the increasing obesity rates among cultures in the region. Another nutritional behaviour observed in the region is the impact of gender roles, whereby cultures with solid female social roles are associated with low rates of eating disorders, transforming into healthy nutritional behaviours (Sibal, 2018). Nevertheless, climatic conditions in these regions tend to influence the types of foods grown and, thus, the consumption rate.
Underdeveloped nations are characterized by low education levels among individuals, poor eating habits and food unavailability in most regions. According to Herbenick et al. (2018), women in most underdeveloped nations are particularly affected by food unavailability, which translates to larger body sizes. Consequently, large body sizes among women in these cultures are depicted as signs of fertility and prosperity, thus increasing food consumerism. Most African and Latin American regions have increased obesity rates (Long et al., 2011). In the same manner, hypoglycemia, a condition experienced as a result of low blood sugar levels, is also prevalent among individuals in these regions due to the high rates of malnutrition and food scarcity. Moreover, spiritual beliefs also affect the rate of obesity in the regions, whereby some cultures with solid spiritual beliefs tend to have strict dietary requirements among individuals regardless of age.
The Role of the Health Care Providers
Healthcare providers are mandated to extend care to vulnerable individuals in society, regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status and existing health condition. Additionally, they ought to care for individuals with high-risk behavioural patterns in society to avoid developing extreme health conditions. However, this objective is often unachieved due to the existing high-risk behaviours often tied to individual influencing factors such as – education, family roles, spiritual beliefs, healthcare practices and drug and alcohol use. These factors profoundly impact nutritional behaviours and directly impact cultural and historical belief systems. Education influences nutritional behaviour primarily through the level of knowledge passed from one culture to another and from one individual to another, which is believed to have an impact on dietary habits (Long et al., 2011). Family roles affect nutritional behaviour by determining gender roles within a culture and their impact on nutritional behaviour. Spiritual beliefs mainly include fasting and eating behaviours among various individuals within a culture. Healthcare practices help to determine the suitability of various healthcare interventions and their acceptability in the culture, while drug and alcohol use have an impact on the ability of an individual’s body to consume and absorb nutrients. Healthcare providers should understand these factors and how they affect individuals intending to adopt healthy lifestyles.
Health education concerning nutritional behaviours entails access to healthy dietary habits and appropriate measures to maintain healthy lifestyles. According to Alderwick & Gottlieb (2019), most cultures lack access to health education, thus lacking knowledge on navigating essential dietary habits such as nutrient intake, appropriate food consumption levels and energy-supplying foods. Therefore, healthcare providers should be keen to extend health education to such cultures to ensure the adoption of healthy behavioural patterns hence maintaining appropriate nutritional behaviours across cultures. Family roles and spiritual beliefs profoundly impact nutritional behaviour due to the dietary practices passed across generations. Women with large body sizes are more fertile than those with smaller bodies.
On the other hand, spiritual beliefs such as fasting and excessive food consumption dictate dietary practices and the rate of food consumption across different cultures. This may affect how individuals view the consumption of certain foods and their nutritional values. Based on these factors, healthcare providers ought to balance the accepted spiritual beliefs and family roles when providing healthcare services to patients. Doing so requires the providers to practice the principles of – beneficence to ensure that care provision aims at the overall well-being of the patient and nonmaleficence to ensure that the care process causes no harm to the patient or family.
Healthcare practices directly influence nutritional behaviours by shaping cultural views across different cultures. For example, certain African cultures segregate specific foods as they believe in having the medicinal capability to treat and avoid some illnesses. Others tend to avoid consuming certain foods due to the existing cultural views that classify them as dangerous to the health of certain individuals in specific age groups. Other cultures tend to have robust belief systems in the healthcare sector, thus availing resources to access and utilize the available healthcare resources efficiently. Healthcare providers should adequately educate the general public on the dangers of self-medication and potential hazards that may be experienced through consuming certain foods considered medicinal and instead recommend efficient medical help and care (Alderwick & Gottlieb, 2019). Drug and alcohol use primarily affect behavioural patterns among different cultures by influencing the food consumption rate and individuals’ bodies’ ability to absorb required nutrients. Cultures from low-income and poorly educated backgrounds tend to register high levels of drug and alcohol abuse that negatively affect their health. Additionally, excessive drug and alcohol use derails mental clarity and responsiveness that could potentially lead to the development of other conditions. Healthcare providers have a vital role in extending education and training to the general public on the dangers of drug and alcohol use on health and effective management measures.
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Sibal, V. (2018, September). Food: Identity of Culture and Religion, ResearchGate. Www.wathi.org. https://www.wathi.org/food-identity-of-culture-and-religion-researchgate/