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Victuals and Values: Exploring Cultural Differences in Family Health Using a Food Memory Framework


Food memories are salient across the lifespan and recent work suggests that memories for past food experiences, especially those from childhood, may influence caregivers’ present-day eating and family meal planning behaviors. Yet, researchers have not identified how cultural ideology interacts with the memory system to inform the intergenerational transmission of food values and beliefs within the family unit. This omission has the potential to perpetuate pre-existing health disparities in families belonging to minority groups and limits the efficacy and appeal of nutritional initiatives within an ever-diversifying U.S. population. Across three studies, the present dissertation examined qualitative and quantitative data on childhood memories, eating motivations, and physical health collected from caregivers belong to four subcultural groups in the U.S. The primary aims of this dissertation were to provide a systematic comparison of food and non-food memories using mixed methods (Study 1), examine food memories from a cultural perspective (Study 2), and identify potential pathways between food memories, eating motivations, and health (Study 3). The three studies presented in this dissertation demonstrated that childhood autobiographical food memories are unique, culturally bound, and potentially linked to food-related behaviors, eating motivations, and health status later in life. This dissertation provides the first known evidence of a culturally moderated pathway between the autobiographical memory system, eating motivations, health perceptions, and caregiver BMI and represents a first step towards identifying how the memory system can be used to develop more inclusive and efficacious healthcare programs.

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