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Social representations of fish and seafood among midlife rural adults: Benefits, risks, and involvement

Stephanie M. Bostic, Jeffery Sobal and Carole A. Bisogni

Food Policy, 2018, vol. 76, issue C, 99-108

Abstract: Food policy is embedded within the context of a risk society where there are collective anxieties about risk and uncertainty. One type of shared knowledge structure created through social, economic, and political communication related to health risks and benefits is social representations. To examine social representations of fish and seafood, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 31 adults ages 50–70 in rural New York State. Interview transcripts were analyzed for individual and shared social representations using open coding. Most participants held numerous social representations describing the health effects of eating fish. The social representations included five domains: intrinsic fish components, fish contaminants, fish as protein, health effects of fish, and types of fish. Nearly everyone discussed core representations of heart health, fish being good for you, and mercury exposure. Participants often held conflicting representations and incorporated conflicting representations in their eating routines. While individuals held similar sets of social representations, their involvement with the social representations varied. Four patterns of involvement with social representations of fish and seafood included: evangelists, safeguarded, oblivious, and risk managers. Social representations and individual patterns of involvement with shared sets of social representations is a unique approach to examining food and health that acknowledges the complexity of the topic as a policy issue as well as the process of knowledge transfer from the expert realm to the broader public in a risk society.

Keywords: Fish; Social representations; Mercury; Omega-3 fatty acids; Health risk; Health benefit (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018
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