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Sociol Health Illn. 2005 May;27(4):448-67.

Lay discourses and beliefs related to food risks: an Australian perspective.

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  • 1School of Social Sciences and Liberal Studies, Charles Sturt University, Australia.


Much publicity has been given to risks associated with food in Western countries. This article draws on an Australian research study using qualitative interviews to investigate discourses and beliefs related to food risks among lay people. It was found that the interviewees were most concerned about dietary fat as a risky substance related to overweight, both because of health reasons and physical appearance. A secondary concern they identified was the processing of foodstuffs and 'unnatural' additives. The dominant discourses which were commonly used to organise people's ideas included those concerning 'trying' to consume the 'right' kinds of foods, the importance of 'balance', the notion of food as 'functional' for bodily health, the 'blame' that often accompanied moral judgements about the diet of people with serious illnesses such as cancer and the 'battle' and need for 'control' that people with children referred to in relation to making sure that their children consumed a healthy diet. Most people were willing to invest their trust in government bodies and health professionals to provide accurate information about food risks, as well as trusting their own judgement. The relevance of the Australian cultural context for these findings is discussed.

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