The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

Uniting perception and reality in human nutrition: integration of qualitative and quantitative data to understand consumption


Department of Anthropology, McMaster University

March 26, 2015 , Gateway Ballroom 4 Add to calendar

The process of food consumption involves both the food items that are eaten and the meanings with which they are associated. Human nutrition studies commonly focus on evaluating the intake of particular nutrients in comparison to daily recommended intakes using food frequency questionnaires, food diaries, or dietary recalls. While these methods can ascertain sufficiency or deficiency, they do not provide insight into individual beliefs related to consumption. Individual perceptions of nutrient intake underlie decisions regarding consumption and influence motivation to alter eating habits. Qualitative methods provide the necessary depth to investigate perceptions and meanings related to food. To fully understand the process of consumption, qualitative and quantitative methods must be united. This paper focuses on the integration of datasets in a study of calcium and vitamin D intake in young adults. Food frequency questionnaires were used to calculate actual nutrient intake and interviews were used to explore perceptions related to consumption. Young adults were identified as under-consuming both nutrients; however, when their perceptions of their consumption were investigated, the majority of young adults believed they were consuming an adequate amount of calcium and vitamin D. The beliefs of these young adults were based on their personal interpretations and understanding of the availability and importance of calcium and vitamin D from foods. These results reveal a disconnect that emerged through the consideration of two disparate data sets and advocate for mixed method approaches in nutritional anthropology.