There is a rising body of literature that has looked into the behavioural determinants of healthy meal selections among restaurant consumers. Accordingly, restaurant consumers are those people who frequently eat away from home. Correspondingly, eating away from home has been linked to several lifestyle diseases, thus explaining why restaurant consumers are increasingly seeking to make healthy menu selections. However, there is also a notable trend that unhealthy meals are still provided, particularly by fast-food joints, despite the apparent need to consume healthy meals away from home. It follows that both healthy and unhealthy meal selections are driven by restaurant consumers’ behavioural beliefs, past behaviours, and behavioural intentions. While the study by Kim et al. (2018) considered these factors concerning healthy meal selections, the current research describes the opposite scenario-unhealthy meal selections.
Literature Review and Conceptual Framework
Many people consume meals away from home, which explains the increased number of visits to restaurants reported in many parts of the world (Beltrán and Romero, 2019). According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA, 2019), some of the factors contributing to the increased consumption of food cooked away from home include the increasing number of working women and higher incomes. Accordingly, the increased number of working women means there are more two-earner households, with both men and women working, thus generating more disposable income. Consequently, many households are finding it easier to eat away from home. Other factors contributing to the practice of eating away from home include smaller sizes of households, increased convenient and affordable food outlets, as well as intensified advertising by large foodservice chains (USDA, 2019). It follows that when a household is smaller, it is more convenient to eat out due to easier mobility. The fact that food outlets are setting up near workplaces and residences makes them comfortable, and their affordability attracts more customers, just as the intense advertising drives being undertaken by many food outlets operating currently.
It is noteworthy that most foods served away from home are typically fast foods that are high in fat, refined sugar content, and salt while lacking sufficient fibre, iron, and calcium. Therefore, eating out causes risks of lifestyle diseases such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Accordingly, Wang, Yu and Tian (2019) confirm that eating away from home correlates with the development of non-communicable diseases. Correspondingly, they adopted data from the 2009 Chinese Health and Survey (CHNS) to research the association between eating out at different ages or sexes and developing metabolic syndrome (MetS). The syndrome is a combination of risk factors for the development of cardiovascular disease as well as obesity, hypertension, insulin resistance, and hyperlipidemia. Findings from the study indicated that there was a variation in the development of MetS at different ages and sexes (Wang, Yu and Tian, 2019). Consequently, Wang, Yu and Tian (2019) established that eating out was positively associated with males, particularly those aged between 45 and 60 years, and negatively associated with young females aged 45 years and below.
Finer details in the study by Wang, Yu and Tian (2019) indicated that eating away from home was linked with a lower risk of young females suffering a range of conditions. Such conditions included having high serum triglycerides or TGCs, high blood pressure, abdominal adiposity, as well as impaired fasting blood glucose at p < 0.05 (Wang, Yu and Tian, 2019). Moreover, the same range of health conditions was found to be of high risk among middle-aged males, also at p < 0.05 (Wang, Yu and Tian, 2019). Additionally, a higher frequency of eating away from home was associated with an increased risk of older women suffering from high blood pressure and abdominal adiposity at p < 0.05 (Wang, Yu and Tian, 2019). However, younger men were found to have a lower risk of developing a range of health conditions, including high blood pressure, as well as impaired fasting blood glucose, also at p < 0.05 (Wang, Yu and Tian, 2019). These results imply that there is a need to come up with unique strategies targeted at different age groups and sexes in the prevention of MetS.
In another study, Kim and Ahn (2020) investigated the relationship between eating out, balanced diets, and the development of obesity (controlling for covariates) among Korean adults aged 19 to 64 years. They aimed at establishing whether a linear relationship exists between the number of times one eats away from home, the expected health outcomes, and the optimal frequency for eating out without adverse health outcomes. The results of the study established that food prepared away from home caused a general deviation of dietary intake from the reference balanced intakes (Kim and Ahn, 2020). Moreover, food taken away from home increased the chances of the study participants becoming obese by 36.22% (Kim and Ahn, 2020). Therefore, the study showed that it is advisable to cut down on eating away from home for better health outcomes, particularly minimizing obesity.
The research by Kim and Ahn (2020) further established that consumption of food away from home 1 to 7 times a week was associated with a lower body mass index (BMI) and a smaller chance of developing obesity. In the foregoing, the optimal level for consuming food away from home was found to be 5 to 7 times a week (Kim and Ahn, 2020). However, not eating out at all was considered to be the best option for ensuring a balanced dietary intake (Kim and Ahn, 2020). Therefore, while controlling the number of times one eats away from home was critical for minimizing negative health outcomes, it takes a lot of discipline to ensure they do not injure their health. Apart from checking the frequency of eating out, the kind of meals selected and whether they have positive or negative health outcomes becomes critical.
Food environments can be broadly referred to as the opportunities people have to get food away from their homes, with elements such as advertising, marketing, access, and geographical availability of food. For instance, Minaker et al. (2016) posit that the geographical availability of food as well as the marketing used for the available food determines the dietary behaviors adopted and the resultant effects on health status. Since eating places contribute a large proportion of people’s dietary intake, a scenario is created for selecting meals which then determines how the practice can influence people’s general health. “Meal selection” is not common in existing literature as most studies have generally focused on food choice regarding eating away from home (Frick, 2017). On the one hand, a “meal” includes the customary timings of eating such as breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as all the kinds of dishes eaten during any of the timings. On the other hand, “food” refers to anything that is eaten. Therefore, “meal selection” offers more context than the more discussed “food selection” when considering the practice of eating away from home and its health implications.
Healthy menu choices have been found to contribute to not only physical but also mental health benefits and as a possible long-term investment of future well-being (Wahl et al., 2017). Moreover, Frick (2017) notes that various factors influence the consciousness among restaurant clients on the need to consume healthy meals. Such factors include biological and physiological factors, intrinsic product characteristics perception, intrinsic product characteristics expectations, socio-cultural factors, situational factors, and psychological factors (Frick, 2017). However, emphasis has been placed on the psychological factors among restaurant consumers on the need their healthy menu selection behaviour (Kim et al., 2018). Correspondingly, various theoretical models have been used to predict behaviour patterns that influence healthy meal selection among people who eat away from home. Some of the theoretical models include the health belief model, value-attitude behaviour (VAB), dual-phase model, as well as the theory of planned behaviour (TPB). As noted by Kim et al. (2018), the TPB model is the most used in the existing literature on psychological influences on healthy meal selection.
The TPB model is built on the idea that one’s intention to perform a certain behaviour depends on how much they are willing to try something or the attitude they have towards the thing (Wang, 2016). Accordingly, past repetitive behaviours increase the chances that one will adopt a certain planned behaviour (Kim et al., 2018). Eating away from home is mostly a repetitive practice and is influenced by behavioural beliefs; thus, the TPB model is suitable for studying the practice. Moreover, the TBP is effective for explaining behaviours related to health issues (Malek et al., 2017). However, it is rather bewildering that there are mixed responses regarding healthy meal selection as some people still prefer to make unhealthy meal choices. Accordingly, fast food joints still successfully offer unhealthy meal options to people who have gained consciousness about healthy meal selection. It remains to be seen whether the TPB can explain such an unexpected behaviour as it is also based on repetitive behaviour and behavioural beliefs. In the foregoing, the researcher uses the TPB model to understand the relationships among behavioural beliefs, past behaviours, attitudes, and behavioural intentions toward unhealthy menu selection.
The following conceptual framework illustrates a TPB model used in the current research to explain repetitive behaviour and behavioural beliefs that influence people who eat out to ignore their consciousness about healthy meal selection. Accordingly, it includes the research assumptions (qualitative) regarding the subject of inquiry.
- Assumption 1 (A1): Restaurant consumers’ behavioural beliefs positively influence their attitudes towards unhealthy meal selection.
- Assumption 2 (A2): Restaurant consumers’ past behaviours concerning unhealthy meal selection positively influence their attitudes towards unhealthy meal selection.
- Assumption 3 (A3): Restaurant consumers’ attitudes towards unhealthy meal selections positively influence their behavioural intentions.
- Assumption 4 (A4): Restaurant consumers’ behavioural beliefs positively influence their behavioural intentions.
- Assumption 5 (A5): Restaurant consumers’ past behaviours concerning unhealthy meal selection positively influence their behavioural intentions.
Amidst the increasing consciousness about healthy meal selection, it is noteworthy that some food joints offer more complex meals as well as buffets for the consumers to select more freely (Frick, 2017). As many people are getting increasingly conscious about healthy meal selection, fast food outlets are responding by launching new healthy food products while also employing strategies for health communication. However, some eateries have limited options for customers to make healthy selections. For instance, some canteens in learning institutions may only provide fixed menus for the students (Frick, 2017). Moreover, it has been noted that the practice of making unhealthy meal selection still prevails even among people who are conscious about their negative health implications. It follows that customers are aware of the adverse effects of consuming “junk food,” but they still choose to do so. This situation is comparable to tobacco consumption that has persisted over the years despite the known evidence from empirical research on its negative health impacts. Such an unexpected behaviour is also based on repetitive practice and is influenced by behavioural beliefs. Therefore, the researcher uses the TPB model to understand the relationships among behavioural beliefs, past behaviours, and behavioural intentions toward unhealthy meal selection.
The research question that identifies the research gap in the current study is:
What are the relationships among restaurant consumers’ behavioural beliefs, past behaviours, and behavioural intentions towards making unhealthy meal selections?
The general research objective for the current study is:
To determine the relationships among restaurant consumers’ behavioural beliefs, past behaviours, and behavioural intentions towards making unhealthy meal selections.
Moreover, the specific research objectives for the current research are:
- To determine how restaurant consumers’ behavioural beliefs positively influence their attitudes towards unhealthy meal selection.
- To find out how restaurant consumers’ past behaviours concerning unhealthy meal selection positively influence their attitudes towards unhealthy meal selection.
- To investigate how restaurant consumers’ attitudes towards unhealthy meal selections positively influence their behavioural intentions.
- To determine how restaurant consumers’ behavioural beliefs positively influence their behavioural intentions.
- To determine how restaurant consumers’ past behaviours concerning unhealthy meal selection positively influence their behavioural intentions.
Beltrán, M.D.P.D. and Romero, Y.M.H. (2019) ‘Healthy eating and restaurants. A review of recent evidence in the literature’, Ciencia & Saude Coletiva, 24, pp. 853-864.
Frick, J. (2017) ‘Literature review on meal choice and meal offering’, NOVANIMAL Working Papers No. 2.
Kim, D. and Ahn, B.I. (2020) ‘Eating out and consumers’ health: evidence on obesity and balanced nutrition intakes’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(2), 586.
Kim, H. et al. (2018) ‘Relationships among behavioural beliefs, past behaviours, attitudes, and behavioural intentions toward healthy menu selection’, Nutrition Research and Practice, 12(4), 348.
Malek, L. et al. (2017) ‘Predicting healthy eating intention and adherence to dietary recommendations during pregnancy in Australia using the theory of planned behavior’, Appetite, 116, pp. 431-441.
Minaker, L.M. et al. (2016) ‘Retail food environments research in Canada: a scoping review’, Canadian Journal of Public Health, 107(1), eS4-eS13.
USDA. (2019) Food away from home. Web.
Wahl, D.R. et al. (2017) ‘Healthy food choices are happy food choices: evidence from a real-life sample using smartphone-based assessments’, Scientific Reports, 7(1), pp. 1-8.
Wang, H., Yu, Y. and Tian, X. (2019) ‘Does eating-away-from-home increase the risk of a metabolic syndrome diagnosis?’ International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(4), 575.
Wang, Y.F. (2016) ‘Modelling predictors of restaurant employees’ green behaviour: comparison of six attitude-behaviour models’, International Journal of Hospitality Management, 58, pp. 66-81.