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OBJECTIVES - African American women suffer disproportionately from many chronic diseases, and it is well acknowledged that eating patterns and habits are important contributory factors. Our goal was to describe and understand how personal and contextual factors among African American women contribute to food choices that increase the risk for chronic disease.
DESIGN - Focus groups were conducted with 40 African American women. Two experimenters abstracted and categorized statements about eating attitudes, beliefs and behaviours from the focus group transcripts.
RESULTS - A total of 139 statements were sorted into 10 major categories: (1). specific meals, (2). planning, (3). family/social, (4). snacking, (5). food preferences, (6). health awareness, (7). shopping, (8). food preparation, (9). eating out and (10). emotional. These categories were subdivided into 49 sub-categories to reveal more specific patterns of behaviour.
CONCLUSION - African American women showed considerable variability in how they approached planning, choosing, preparing and eating food. A plethora of habits and food meanings-influenced by the personal, cultural, and environmental context-place these women at high risk for chronic disease. There were attempts to eat 'healthy', but these were overcome by traditions, social influences, habits and price. Individualized assessments to determine how each woman uses contextual information to make her food choices should be conducted in order to facilitate permanent eating behaviour change.