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Constructing Food Choice Decisions



Food choice decisions are frequent, multifaceted, situational, dynamic, and complex and lead to food behaviors where people acquire, prepare, serve, give away, store, eat, and clean up. Many disciplines and fields examine decision making.


Several classes of theories are applicable to food decision making, including social behavior, social facts, and social definition perspectives. Each offers some insights but also makes limiting assumptions that prevent fully explaining food choice decisions.


We used constructionist social definition perspectives to inductively develop a food choice process model that organizes a broad scope of factors and dynamics involved in food behaviors.


This food choice process model includes (1) life course events and experiences that establish a food choice trajectory through transitions, turning points, timing, and contexts; (2) influences on food choices that include cultural ideals, personal factors, resources, social factors, and present contexts; and (3) a personal system that develops food choice values, negotiates and balances values, classifies foods and situations, and forms/revises food choice strategies, scripts, and routines. The parts of the model dynamically interact to make food choice decisions leading to food behaviors.


No single theory can fully explain decision making in food behavior. Multiple perspectives are needed, including constructionist thinking.

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The authors thank the Cornell Food Choice Research Group, the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and others for support for this work.

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Correspondence to Jeffery Sobal Ph.D., M.P.H..

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Sobal, J., Bisogni, C.A. Constructing Food Choice Decisions. ann. behav. med. 38, 37–46 (2009).

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  • Food
  • Eating
  • Choice
  • Decisions
  • Construction
  • Theories