We use food to express ourselves socially and culturally - food practices express gender, class, location, ethnicity and beliefs and convey a sense of identity and self. For older women the planning, purchasing, preparation and serving of food is often a distinctive and important part of their role within the family. Reduced involvement in these tasks could affect women's sense of well-being, identity, self-esteem and engagement with family and friends. While physical needs for food are often supported by services such as meals-on-wheels, informal support from family, friends, neighbours and congregate meals, the implications of such changes in older women's relationship with food have not been fully explored in relation to their social, service development or policy consequences.
This research will explore how older women respond to reduced contact with food.
Aims and purpose
* To discover the impact on older women of reduced contact with food in terms of meanings of food, social engagement and well-being
* To understand how this impact alters over time
* To explore the potential for intervening to restore greater contact with food in these women
* To contribute to service and policy development
Research questions include:
In older women who no longer cook their own main meals,
* How has their contact with food changed and how do they feel about these changes?
* What meanings do older women associate with their previous involvement with shopping, preparing, growing, cooking and presenting food?
* What meanings do older women associate with reduced contact with food and with their current levels of involvement with shopping, preparing, growing, cooking and presenting food?
* Do these meanings change over time?
* What is the impact of this change in contact on social engagement and well-being?
* Do older women want to re-establish or increase their contact with food (and if so, how)?
* What are the implications of these findings for service development and policy?
We will recruit 40 women aged at least 65 years and living at home, who do not prepare their own main meals. The women will be drawn from a range of socioeconomic, urban/rural and ethnic groups. Half the participants will participate in 2 in-depth, semi-structured interviews (separated by 4-5 months) and two observations. The other participants will take part in focus groups.
The interviews will be carried out by a research associate with the ability to empathise and support participants if they find addressing the topic difficult. The focus of the initial individual interviews and the focus groups will be on describing an eating occasion remembered with pleasure from several years ago and another from the past few weeks, comparing and contrasting levels of involvement, associated meanings, feelings, social and cultural activities and self-esteem. At the second interview we will feed back a summary of main points extracted from the initial interview to allow participants to elaborate, disagree with interpretations and describe changes over time. Observations of meals eaten with others will add depth to our understanding of roles and social meanings of food.
Interviews, observations and field notes will be transcribed in full. Analysis will be an iterative process drawing on modified grounded theory methods and develop theory around the meanings of reduced contact with food for older women. Service delivery and policy implications will be developed.
If negative feelings and issues of loss of self-esteem or decline in social and cultural activities are associated with reduced contact with food, we plan to design an intervention study to assess meanings, and social, psychological, quality of life and health effects of renewed contact with food provision. Additional research avenues include contrasting the experience of freeliving older women with that of men and women in residential care