How Cultural Understanding Brings More People to the Table, in Nutrition and Overall Well-Being

Group of different young people. Social diversity stock illustration

By Erin Edge, Editor-in-Chief, Healthline Media

Today, consumers are prioritizing their long-term, holistic wellness, shifting away from quick fixes to more positive, sustainable lifestyles. For many people, this vision of wellness is more accessible when it is grounded in their ethnicity and culture.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in nutrition, where brands, publishers, and dieticians are shifting toward a culturally competent approach to healthy eating. While the nutrition industry was largely built on Eurocentric ideas about food, we are now seeing an exciting push to expand the definition of and access to healthy eating to include more cultures and cuisines.

This comes at a time when food prices are rising, food banks are in demand, and the Biden administration has unveiled a plan to end U.S. hunger by 2030. In this context, a more inclusive approach to nutrition has the potential to expand access, help more people see themselves in wellness solutions, and drive real outcomes.

Consumers Are Looking for Diverse Recipes

There’s no question that consumers are ready for culturally competent wellness solutions. In a September 2022 survey of U.S. and U.K. users of Healthline nutrition content, we found that People of Color want more than a basic diet plan:

  • 29% want to incorporate their culture’s foods into healthy recipes, compared to 7% of white users
  • 66% want recipes that are not just healthy, but also flavorful and tasty

In fact, people of many backgrounds want interesting, culturally rich options. In a January 2022 study of Healthline users of nutrition content, 35% say that discovering new and interesting recipes is one of their top strategies for reaching their nutrition goals. More people than ever have an appetite for cuisines from around the world — just look at the popularity of Doña Angela, a Mexican grandmother whose cooking channel on Youtube has 4.15 million subscribers!

The Nutrition Industry Lacks Diversity and Cultural Competency

Despite this enthusiasm, there is more work to be done to improve diversity in nutrition. According to the Commission on Dietetic Registration, less than 13% of dieticians identify as a racial or ethnic minority, and just 2.6% are Black. What’s more, reporting in the New York Times suggests most dietitians are not given sufficient training in how to support a diverse clientele, despite the close link between food and identity in many cultures.

In this context, Eurocentric ideas about healthy eating become the default. All too often, the nutrition industry overlooks other cuisines and foods deeply rooted in different cultures, which can lead people to believe these aren’t healthy choices. At the same time, “white,” cookie-cutter recipes aren’t accessible, appealing, or sustainable solutions for everyone.

How We Frame Healthy Eating Matters

As the industry recognizes the need for a culturally competent approach to nutrition, we need to recognize how the biases of the past continue to impact the present. The idea of healthy eating has a history and context that has excluded People of Color, and how we frame this concept today still matters.

As an example, consider the Mediterranean diet, which is consistently ranked as the healthiest diet choice and linked to a lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In our September survey, this diet showed 20% popularity among white respondents, but only 5% among People of Color.

This disparity may reflect how this diet was defined and marketed from the start. Although there are 21 countries that border the Mediterranean, with a rich variety of cuisines, the original research about this diet included only European countries. Today, we can recognize these limitations, and do more to not just redefine this diet, but also rethink our assumptions about “healthy eating” itself.

Rethinking our definition of healthy eating can also help expand access for low-income groups. If people are told that fresh, organic fruits and vegetables are the only way to eat well, but they only have access to frozen or canned foods, they may feel that healthy eating isn’t for them. We can do more to ensure recipes and resources are designed to educate and support people whose food access may be limited.

Taking the Lead in Cultural Competency

Today, nutrition organizations and leaders are finding ways to make nutrition more welcoming, customizable, and inspiring for more people. For instance, Diversify Dietetics is a community that aims to increase diversity in nutrition by empowering leaders of color. We can also look to people like Dr. Kera Nyemb-Diop, who champions body respect and reclaiming cultural food heritage as part of a healthy lifestyle.

For health and wellness brands and marketers today, the importance of cultural competency in reaching audiences can’t be overstated. Across all Healthline Media health and wellness content, we aim to understand how culture, ethnicity, race, and other aspects of identity influence our audience’s perspectives, needs, and choices. By understanding audience trends in nutrition and other aspects of well-being, we can all serve our audiences better.

For additional insights, join us at our Advertising Week New York 2022 panel: A recipe for tomorrow: bridging culture and nutrition. Hear from passionate health and wellness leaders who are championing the shift toward a more diverse, culturally informed understanding of nutrition.

SOURCES:

Healthline Media Nutrition study. Survey of 585 U.S. and U.K. Healthline users on K1s related to food and nutrition. Sep 2022.

Healthline Media Nutrition study. Survey of 402 U.S. Healthline users on K1s related to food and nutrition. Jan 2022.

SIGN UP TO SKILL UP
The All Access membership allows you to discover 500+ hours of best in class thought leadership