“It’s a Social Thing”: Sociocultural Experiences with Nutrition and Exercise in Anchorage, Alaska

Britteny M. Howell and Shoshana H. Bardach

Abstract

Cross-cultural research shows marked variation in health across the world’s senior populations. The social and cultural environment contributes to complex negotiations of food and physical activity patterns; however, little is known about social and cultural influences on diet and activity patterns for older adults in the urban Circumpolar North. Utilizing a socioecological framework, this project investigates social determinants of well-being in older adulthood in Anchorage, Alaska. The purpose of this exploratory qualitative study was to identify sociocultural influences on diet and activity patterns for seniors in Anchorage to inform the design of a larger quantitative research project. This study asked 15 seniors in Anchorage about sociocultural factors that influence their diet and physical activity. Six major themes were identified: the media, friends and peers, family influences, social opportunities, ethnicity and subsistence practices, and weight loss/body weight concerns. This research suggests that reaching older adults with diverse needs through a variety of channels, including the media, social networks, and social events, can help alleviate barriers to healthy lifestyle patterns. These results indicate a need for low-cost, accessible, culturally responsive programs that maintain relationships with family members and make connections between seniors in order to improve diet and physical activity practices.

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