Variety and the impact of choice influencers in the diets of free-living adults

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Variety and the impact of choice influencers in the diets of free-living adults

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Nursing homes, school lunch programs, institutional cafeterias, etc., provide limited food choices for meals, intending to offer satisfactory variety. But we are unaware of any research-based studies addressing the meaning of satisfactory variety within and across meals, days, weeks, and months. Our primary objective was to determine the variety of foods consumed by free-living, food-secure individuals. A secondary objective was to evaluate how overall food choice and the consumption of specific food classes were guided by several choice influencers. A third objective was to determine how the amount of variety consumed in the diet and how food choices guided by choice influencers affected satisfaction with variety. Participants (50 male, 52 female; age at least 25 years with a Bachelor’s degree) maintained a 28-day online food diary with seven eating occasions: breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, early evening snack, dinner, and late evening snack. After completing each week, participants rated their satisfaction with the variety in their diets that week and the impact of 13 choice influencers on the foods they consumed that week. We measured dietary variety as a count of unique foods and used these counts to calculate a proportion of unique foods consumed. We evaluated how dietary variety differed by gender, personality traits (food neophobia, sensation-seeking tendency, and boredom proneness), and eating occasions. The total number of foods consumed each week, the count of unique foods, and the proportion of unique foods were compared with satisfaction ratings. We determined key choice influencers by recording the frequency at which choice influencers were rated as having high, moderate, low, or no impact on selection over all foods consumed. We grouped each food consumed into one of 17 food classes to weigh the importance of the choice influencers for the consumption of specific food classes. Participants consumed an average of 110 unique items over 28 days with higher counts of unique items for dinner (46 items), followed by lunch (38 items), and then breakfast (21 items). The highest proportions of unique items were consumed at dinner (0.60), early evening snack (0.59), lunch (0.56), and late evening snack (0.56). Female participants consumed higher counts of unique foods than did male participants over all eating occasions and for lunch, dinner, morning snack, afternoon snack, and total snack. Male participants consumed a higher proportion of unique foods for breakfast than female participant. Participants who were more food neophobic and those that had higher ratings of boredom proneness had lower counts of unique foods. Liking, hunger, and convenience were most frequently selected as having a high impact on food choice. The ‘presence on a menu,’ ‘only thing served,’ and ‘special occasion’ were most frequently selected as having no impact on food choice. Liking was generally the highest rated choice influencer across food classes while the lowest rated choice influencer was typically ‘because it was the only thing served.’ Satisfaction with variety was positively associated with liking while foods eaten because of convenience were associated with reduced satisfaction with variety.


University of Minnesota M.S. thesis. January 2018. Major: Food Science. Advisor: Zata Vickers. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 130 pages.

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Wisdorf, Lauren. (2018). Variety and the impact of choice influencers in the diets of free-living adults. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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