Maintaining a healthy diet has a direct impact on human health, reproduction, and life expectancy. However, there is no common understanding of what healthy food represents among individuals of different ages, origins, and socioeconomic dispositions. For some consumers, proper nutrition is the systematic consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits, and for others – crushing the daily diet into small portions (Cummings, 2017). By proper nutrition, some consumers mean the replenishment of daily energy costs with a pre-calculated calorie content of products (Cummings, 2017). In its most general form, healthy nutrition ensures growth, normal development, and vital activity of a person, contributing to the strengthening of their health and disease prevention. Much of current nutritional scientific research is currently focusing on healthy eating practices and standards to optimize the diet to prevent major chronic diseases.
However, despite the obvious benefits of a healthy diet and its popularization, some fundamental issues related to inequality and social ambiguities arise. First, the new challenges generated by the globalization of food markets, food security issues, and interest in human health are essential. Second, the question is to what extent people can consciously and independently choose how they eat while guided by scientific advice. Here, first of all, scholars are concerned about the consequences of the social imposition of the cult of diets and the body, influencing and shaping nutrition practices in a particular fashion for “healthy” food and “proper” nutrition (Silchenko & Askegaard, 2020). They are often understood one-sidedly, solely concerning their bodies’ shape, the regulatory standards of which are also imposed by food manufacturers and distributors. Food preferences and refusals in food become part of the image, a way of identifying oneself with a certain community, culture, or subculture.
Analyzing this issue, it is necessary to focus on the interconnection of people’s eating behavior with the health issues of the population. It is also essential to consider the social problems of inequality and the influence of marketing on shaping the perception of healthy eating by the consumer. The share of the population opting for a healthy diet is an indirect indicator of social well-being, welfare state effectiveness, and public health literacy.
In the conventional sense, healthy eating is a list of products that allow the consumer to reimburse energy costs and obtain a beneficial effect that influences human health positively. The impact of the quality of food on citizens’ health and the demographic situation, in general, actualizes the problem of healthy nutrition of the population both for national states and globally. Current public perception of the role and importance of a healthy lifestyle includes nutrition as a component of the health-improving system, giving food products some protective and therapeutic-prophylactic properties.
The global health food market is growing steadily, especially in western countries. The health and wellness segment became the fastest growing in the global food and beverage market last year, according to experts from Euromonitor International; in 2016, this market grew by 6.8% to $ 36 billion (Euromonitor, 2017). In this case, the segment of the category “free-from”, that is, not containing certain ingredients, for example, food allergies or intolerances, increased by 7% (Euromonitor, 2017). The growing global demand for lactose-free and hypoallergenic foods and beverages contributes to an increase in the “free-from” category, which, according to experts, will grow by another $ 9.5 billion by 2021 (Euromonitor, 2017). According to experts, the categories of products “free-from” and “organic” will make the most significant contribution to the development of the global health and wellness segment, which will reach a record high of $ 833 billion by 2021 (Euromonitor, 2017). These trends demonstrate the growing demand and supply of healthy nutrition products globally.
One of the reasons for the increased popularity of nutrition as a source of “wellness” is the consequences of the processes of economic and social modernization of Western societies. During the second half of the 20th-century, the concept of food has acquired new meanings (Phillipov, 2017). Considerable changes in nutritional practices occurred due to the post-war transformation of European culture: the transition from the lack of food to a society with an abundance of food. Social transformations have changed food preferences and perceptions of what it means to eat healthily. Scientists have realized that food consumption, being separated at an accelerated pace from its primordial biological and physiological significance, increasingly depends on social habits (Murcott, 2018). Sociologists have empirically proved that, in addition to social norms, human eating behavior in modern society is regulated by the so-called dietary norms (Lutz, 2020). Social norms, as regulators of eating behavior, are social prescriptions related to the amount, moment, place, and type of food intake, as well as the conditions and social contexts in which they occur.
Dietary norms are prescriptions based on scientific research, and they relate to a correct, balanced diet. These include the need to eat fruits and vegetables, the use of such a cooking method, in which the main nutrients are not lost, the refusal of a large amount of fried, sweet, salty, and so forth. Scientists note that these two types of norms (social and dietary) can conflict with each other (Carfora et al., 2017). Moreover, healthy eating as a marketing element has become a fashionable topic of public discussion. Television talk shows, internet blogs, and nutritional magazines reflect and promote public interest in this issue.
However, regular nutrition is not always possible for many people. One of the reasons is the low level of real income of the population (Bull et al., 2017). It should be remembered that education is a powerful predictor of health in later life since it partially provides access to employment and income and directly impacts the behavior of an individual in adulthood, including dietary habits.
The response to existing challenges should involve systematic activities aimed at creating and maintaining information and educational environments that promote the spread of sustainable lifestyle changes, including the commitment to a healthy lifestyle and healthy eating principles. In shaping literacy in healthy eating as a part of general health literacy formation, it is necessary to emphasize the difference between nutritional trends and evidence-based recommendations. If diets and nutritional practices change following marketing trends and promoted brands on the market, then the human body and professional medical recommendations are much more “conservative”, that is, they do not undergo such a rapid change. In the development of a healthy lifestyle for the population, an important role is played by raising the authority of scientific recommendations as opposed to following trends in healthy eating practices.
The impact of marketing efforts to shape the image of food as healthy affects the price of the final product. What is recognized as healthy and popularized, for example, as a superfood, differs significantly in cost from “regular” products (Coughenour et al., 2018). Thus, income has a fundamental role in shaping dietary practices and habits. It seems that within the framework of the formation of the population’s health literacy, it is necessary to emphasize that, in reality, useful products are not limited to the list offered within the framework of specific trends. At the same time, the most important component on the way to popularizing healthy nutrition is the creation of economic and physical accessibility of food of adequate quality.
My personal opinion on the matter of healthy nutrition is that it should be popularized with caution. It is rather a responsibility of scientists and professional nutritionists rather than that of marketers, salesmen, and people receiving profit. It is also essential for the reason that many diets without any scientific justification, which can be even harmful, are promoted as healthy eating habits and healthy lifestyles in general. Thus, healthy eating is both a matter of popularization and speculation. Whereas in the former case the results are often desirable and advantageous, the latter presents a troubling trend.
Each person puts their meaning in the concept of “healthy eating”, but the first issue is taking care of your health. Healthy nutrition is the most important component of the quality of life, which is understood as an integral indicator of a person’s mental, physical, and social functioning. At the same time, healthy eating as part of a healthy lifestyle is of great practical importance not only for a person but also for society as a whole.
Addressing the real-life problems of an individual allows one to catch the slightest changes in the organization of everyday practices and identify new needs of people. This sets the pace for science, giving it social significance, which is manifested in the permanent increment of new research focuses and the development of original research approaches and methodologies. Nutrition has become such a new focus in recent years. A person’s desire to eat right is a modern trend; in particular, it can be interpreted as an unconscious adherence to the instinct of self-preservation. The popularization of healthy nutrition and its implementation will improve the quality of life of the country’s population.
Bull, E. R., McCleary, N., Li, X., Dombrowski, S. U., Dusseldorp, E., & Johnston, M. (2018). Interventions to promote healthy eating, physical activity and smoking in low-income groups: a systematic review with meta-analysis of behavior change techniques and delivery/context. International journal of behavioral medicine, 25(6), 605-616.
Carfora, V., Caso, D., & Conner, M. (2017). Correlational study and randomized controlled trial for understanding and changing red meat consumption: The role of eating identities. Social Science & Medicine, 175, 244-252.
Coughenour, C., Bungum, T. J., & Regalado, M. N. (2018). Healthy food options at dollar discount stores are equivalent in quality and lower in price compared to grocery stores: an examination in Las Vegas, NV. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(12), 2773-2783.
Cummings, C. L. (2017) Comprehension of products and messages. In: Emilien, G., Weitkunat, R., & Lüdicke, F. (Eds.) Consumer perception of product risks and benefits (pp. 153-173). Springer International Publishing.
Euromonitor International. (2017). “Free from” food movement: Driving growth in health and wellness space. Web.
Lutz, A. (2020). Internalizing dietary norms and transforming food practices: social inequalities in the management of childhood obesity. Health Sociology Review, 29(1), 16-30.
Murcott, A. (2018). The nation’s diet: The social science of food choice. Routledge.
Phillipov, M. (2017). Media and food industries: The new politics of food. Springer.
Silchenko, K., & Askegaard, S. (2020). Mapping moralities of food and health in marketing research literature. Journal of Marketing Management, 36(9-10), 794-829.