Food priorities: Sociodemographic variation in constrained choices at the grocery store

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Purpose: Using a Constrained Choice Theory framework, this paper will identify variation in choosing the constraint-reflective priorities of budget, taste, or health by sociodemographic group, familial status, and weight category. Identifying which groups experience unique constraints will allow for customized healthy eating programs to address barriers specific to each group. Methodology/approach: Data are derived from a paper survey of families with children in Lexington, KY and analyzed using logistic regression. Findings: The results of this study confirm that some sociodemographic groups are more likely to choose priorities that reflect contextual constraints in their lives than others. In particular, having a higher income reduces likelihood of prioritizing budget and increases chances of prioritizing taste. Being married or cohabitating is correlated with choosing health, but having more children reduces the likelihood of prioritizing health. Being obese correlates with increased likelihood of prioritizing budget. Membership in each of these categories reflects constraints on which foods are purchased for the home. Social implications: Families are encouraged to improve their diets by eating at home, but families face many constraints when choosing healthy foods at the grocery store. Understanding the constraints experienced by various groups when shopping for food will lead to health policy that more fully addresses barriers to healthy eating for groups with disproportionately high incidence of diet-related disease. Originality/value: This paper extends Constrained Choice Theory by applying it to a new aspect of health, purchasing groceries, and also by examining a wider variety of sociodemographic groups than previous research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-100
Number of pages22
JournalAdvances in Medical Sociology
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 by Emerald Publishing Limited.


  • Constrained Choice
  • Food
  • Grocery shopping
  • Nutrition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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