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  • Writer's pictureConscient Kind

Patterns of Consumption and the Theories and Models That Explain Meat Eating

Health behavior introduction

Our diet may not usually be considered a health behavior more than an inherited, cultural characteristic. The kind of foods we eat contribute to our cultural and personal identity. Food culture within the United States is comprised of snippets of the cultural cornucopia found within its borders; from Asian American to Latin American cuisine, and everything in between. Inarguably however, is the fact that meat comprises a large portion of the U.S. diet. In recent years however, the number of people concerned about the healthfulness of meat consumption has increased. People’s attitudes toward meat consumption have been observed to include issues regarding healthfulness, value for money (Richardson, Shepherd, & Elliman, 2005), environmental issues, and animal-welfare concerns (Tonsor, & Olynk, 2010). Experts, and laypeople have begun to show concern regarding the healthfulness of meat for good reason.

Some of the leading causes of death in the United States are related, however not limited to poor nutrition. Those causes of death include the following in order by prevalence; heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes (CDC, 2015b). This health behavior doesn’t only affect the health of people, and the environment, it has financial implications that affect everyone. According to the American Heart Association, one in three adults has some kind of heart disease, and cost from treating heart conditions is estimated to increase from “$273 billion to $818 billion” by the year 2030 (2011). Nancy Brown, the CEO of the American Heart and Lung association stated, "Unhealthy behaviors and unhealthy environments have contributed to a tidal wave of risk factors among many Americans. Early intervention and evidence-based public policies are absolute musts to significantly reduce alarming rates of obesity, hypertension, tobacco use and cholesterol levels" (2011). This paper will briefly discuss the negative consequences of eating excessive amounts of meat; the negative effects on our health and that of the environment. It will also report the findings of the two case studies, Discontinuity patterns in stages of the precaution adoption process model: Meat consumption during a livestock epidemic, and Current attitudes and future influences on meat consumption in the U.K.; whose goals were to identify attitudes and the specific factors that influence behavior as it relates to meat consumption.

Health behavior background According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in the year 2000, the average American consumed a total of “195 pounds” of meat, compared to the amount consumed between the years of “1950-59”, which was “138.2 pounds per capita”. Daily recommended servings of lean meat vary from “5 to 7 ounces”. According to the aforementioned survey conducted in the year 2000, the average American eats “8.5 ounces” of meat per day. A study done by Beydoun, and Wang from the Center for Human Nutrition, reports that meat consumption among men, and women creates a considerable increase in daily kilocalories consumed; those whose consumption of meat was in the upper end, consumed about “700 more calories per day” than those whose consumption of meat was in the lower end (2009). The results, “showed consistent positive association between [meat consumption] and BMI, waist circumference, obesity and central obesity” (Wang & Beydoun, 2009). In 2015, the National Center for Health Statistics estimated that among U.S. adults, “36.5 percent” of them and “17 percent” of two to 19 year olds were obese (NIH, 2013a). Moreover, protein and lipids are the main macronutrients in meat, regardless of type of meat. Obesity raises the risk for coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, abnormal blood fats, metabolic syndrome, cancer, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, obesity hypoventilation syndrome, reproductive problems and gallstones (NIH, 2012b). In the United States, meat is the major source of protein. The incidence of high meat consumption positively correlates with the incidence of high protein intake. According to the U.S. dietary guidelines, the recommended daily allowance of protein for women ages 19 and up is 45 grams, while men ages 19 and up need 56 grams. Per the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the average American man eats 101.9 grams of protein and the Average American woman consumes 70.1 grams of protein.

Some determinants that negatively contribute to this health behavior include government policies that provide subsidies to industries that benefit the livestock sector, and that indirectly harm the health of low income communities. According to Arthur Allen from the Washington Post, The U.S spent “133 billion” dollars to subsidize animal-feed crops, tobacco, and cotton between 1995 and 2010. Fruit, vegetable, and nut farms received no direct subsidies (2011). The USDA’s food price outlook for 2016 and 2017 summarizes that the cost of beef is seven percent less than last year, and they predict that fresh vegetable prices will increase up to “1.5 percent” (2016). This could be one reason for the social health gradient, which refers to evidence that shows that the poorer a person is, the less healthy they are compared to the health of people with higher socioeconomic status. Additionally, as illustrated above, gender seems to be a strong influence that determines meat consumption; with men consuming more than women (Kayser, Nitzko & Spiller, 2013).

Meat consumption doesn’t only affect our waistline; animal agriculture is also responsible for “18 percent” of greenhouse gas emissions; compared to “13 percent” which is comprised of all transportation exhaust (FAO). The World Health Organization states in, Climate change and human health - risks and responses. Summary, “populations of all animal species depend on supplies of food and water, freedom from excess infectious disease, and the physical safety and comfort conferred by climatic stability” (2003). The National Institute of health claims that rising sea levels, air pollution, heat waves, and change in precipitation direct and indirect impact the physical, social and mental health of humans. Rising sea levels can lead to mass migration and poverty. Air pollution can cause asthma and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Heat waves can increase heat stroke, organ damage, and skin cancer, and changes in precipitation can cause drought and water scarcity (2016c).

The current livestock production process in the United States, and increasingly around the world, can be described to function in a linear fashion; versus the closed loop nature of ecological farming which reduces ecological debt. In fact, “animal production has gotten so far from the traditional methods of farming that the government no longer refers to these operations as farms. They are now called ‘Animal Feeding Operations’ (AFO) [or concentrated animal feeding operations, (CAFO)] (GRACE, 2016)”. This linear model is responsible for increased efficiency and profitability to the companies that run them. This current linear, livestock husbandry model is likewise responsible for waste production and climate degradation at every stage of the process. AFOs and CAFOs can house thousands, to hundreds of thousands of animals in confined situations. The environment in which animals are held is but sanitary. These animals eat, sleep, and defecate in confined spaces, making them and consumers susceptible to E. coli, bovine spongiform encephalitis, trichinosis, salmonella, and scrapie. Administration of antibiotics is common practice to help keep them as healthy as possible in these conditions. This has inherently created a global antibiotic-resistant superbug epidemic. These antibiotic resistant pathogens can be transmitted to humans though the food supply, making infections difficult to treat (CDC, 2014a).

CAFOs will often have liquid manure systems, which are huge lagoons that the animal’s urine and feces get transferred to. The decomposing manure create toxic gases like Hydrogen Sulfide, Methane, Ammonia, and Carbon Dioxide. One major health concern regarding these gases is that carbon dioxide and methane are both asphyxiates, and methane is also flammable. The area surrounding the lagoons can become so toxic that the procedure to enter the area requires that workers wear self-contained breathing units. Additionally, the lagoons can leak into reservoirs, polluting potable water; or overflow during a rainy season to nearby ponds, and lakes that create dead zones. Feeding millions of animals, a concentrated diet of corn means that more than 746 million acres of land is devoted to monocultures.

Monocultures deplete the soil of a particular nutrient, creating an imbalance within the soil and exhausting it. This creates the need to clear more natural habitat for agriculture, and therefore lessening the number of tree available to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. Because monocultures are vulnerable to pests and infections, common farming practices require pesticide application. Pesticides are sprayed directly onto fields. There are a few problems with this system, (1) air can cause spray drift, (2) some of it gets evaporated and spreads through precipitation, (3) it seeps into the ground, reaching groundwater, lakes and eventually the ocean, and finally, (4) during rains, there is crop run-off. The aforesaid indirectly and directly affects human health in the form of poorer air quality, and polluted water. It also affects the workers and the people who live around these operations by creating a toxic environment. Lessening meat consumption can reduce a person’s BMI as well as the stress on the environment on which we all depend.

Health behavior theory and model

The logic behind theory of reasoned action, also known as theory of planned behavior, attests that people’s behaviors all stem from their beliefs. Beliefs develop attitudes, which lead to intentions that determine behavior. For instance, a person can believe that eating chicken is healthier than eating beef because it has less saturated fat. This belief will create a positive attitude toward eating chicken. This positive attitude will create a behavioral intention which will ultimately come to the behavior of choosing chicken over beef. This theory takes into account other factors that may influence a person’s behavioral intention, these are: Subjective norms, that is the acceptable social behavior, and perceived behavioral control, which refers to a person’s perceived ability to carry out a task or behavior.

Precaution adoption process model (PAPM) tries to understand how a person comes to the decision to take action; specifically, when it relates to a precautionary measure to avoid a risky outcome. The stages of PAPM are as follows. (Stage 1) unaware of the issue, (stage 2) unengaged by the issue, (stage 3) undecided about acting, (stage 4) deciding not to act, (stage 5) deciding to act, (stage 6) acting and (stage 7) maintenance. Although this model seems to suggest that people move through these stages in a linear fashion, they actually don’t. People might move from one stage to the next only to be triggered by something that causes them to circle back around to previous stages.

Article summary and theory and model application Richardson, Shepherd, and Elliman, authors of Current attitudes and future influences on meat consumption in the U.K., used the theory of reasoned action “to measure beliefs, attitudes and behavior and relate then in a quantitative manner” (Richardson, et. al, 1993). Richardson and his co-researchers conducted a survey of “1,018” U.K. residents to determine their attitudes toward

certain beliefs about meat consumption. Researchers provided some statement to identify the subject’s beliefs. Some statements from the survey include beliefs like, “Eating [animals and animal byproducts] involves animal cruelty”, “Is healthy”, “Is convenient”, and “Increases my cholesterol level” (Richardson, et. al, 1993). They were then introduced to a series of different scenarios to predict future meat consumption. One such scenario involved an increase in the price of meat attributed to distribution cost not to the quality of the product. Another scenario involved advice to reduce consumption of meat due to its content of saturated fat. They were asked if their meat consumption would decrease, stay the same or increase if these health claims were made.

The researchers reported that taste and health were the most important beliefs that predicted meat consumption. They also concluded that value for the participant’s money was an important consideration when purchasing meat and non-meat products. Followed by animal cruelty regarding some but not other animals. They found that attitudes (which were made up of their beliefs and their evaluations) were different between those who reported eating more and those who reported eating less meat. For example, those who increased their shellfish consumption had less negative attitudes about the additives and cholesterol found in shellfish, than those who had more negative attitudes (Richardson, et. al, 1993).

Discontinuity patterns in stages of the precaution adoption process model: Meat consumption during a livestock epidemic, is a research done by Sniehotta, Luszczynska, Scholz, & Lippke where they attempt to understand social and cognitive variables like, perceived vulnerability, self-efficacy, and precautionary actions, applied within each stage of the precaution adoption process model (PAPM) to determine their effects on stage mobility. They studied this within the context of lowering meat consumption as a preventative behavior during a bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) epidemic in Germany. Participants were asked questions regarding their perceived vulnerability of getting Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease from BSE. They were also asked questions regarding the perceived consequences of reducing meat consumption, which ranged from, “I would feel less vulnerable to disease” to, “I would feel restricted in my diet” (Sniehotta, 2005). They likewise had questions to evaluate self-efficacy and procrastination. They were assigned to one of the stages of the model according to their response to the questionnaire.

The majority of subjects, “38.6 percent” were assigned to stage 6, acting with intention to maintain a diet low in meat. Scientist identified different levels of perceived vulnerability, self-efficacy, procrastination and outcome expectancies about precautionary action at each stage of the model. Their findings were consistent with the stage model assumption, meaning that those in the decision stages (stages 3, 4, and 5), perceived themselves to be more vulnerable than those in other stages. They also correctly hypothesized that people assigned to earlier stages (stage 1, 2, 3, and 4) expected less positive outcomes from changing their eating habits to include less meat than those who were assigned to later stages (stages 5, and 6); with the exception of those who decided not to act in stage 4. Expectations regarding self-efficacy were maintained, they discovered that self-efficacy increase the farther the participants were in the stages. Lastly, procrastination was highest in those who were acting but had no intention to maintain their low meat diet, as well as in those who were deciding to act (Sniehotta, 2005).

Conclusion and recommendations for further study In recent years, more nutrition professionals have begun to advocate a plant-based diet to reduce instances of chronic disease associated with consumption of high quantities of meat. Researches have begun to make the connection between our health and that of the environment.

However, dietary patterns are difficult to change. The studies mentioned in this paper provide the beliefs, attitudes, intentions, and behavioral prognosis for future intentions regarding meat consumption of a small sample of the population. Although many of them showed difficulty changing their eating habits, most were concerned about the safety, healthfulness, and cost of meat. Recommendations for future study were made by Richardson and his co-researchers to include a more comprehensive and larger population research done longitudinally (1993). This would help more accurately measure change in beliefs and attitudes that could predict food trends. Sniehotta and his co-researchers suggest that future studies include variables like phase-specific self-efficacy and planning (2005). Studies regarding people’s beliefs as it relates to the reduction of meat consumption to reduce climate change, and therefore stall climate change induced health consequences would also be beneficial in detecting ways to help reduce overconsumption of meat.

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-Kayser, M., Nitzko, S., Spiller, A., (2013). Analysis of differences in meat consumption patterns. International Food and Agribusiness Management Association. 16 (2). -Summary findings: Food price outlook, 2016-17. (2016). United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved from

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