Communication ETDs

Publication Date



This project explores New Mexico high school students' perceptions of the influences on their food practices, with a particular focus on how family, culture, interpersonal communication, and cooking influence dietary habits. In light of changes in food practices that have led to unhealthy dietary habits, this research aims to contribute to the understanding of the interplay between food, culture, and communication in order to inform health communication and nutrition education interventions and public policy strategies to promote healthy eating behavior among young people. The theoretical framework of this research is grounded in health communication theoyr--with the socio-ecological model as a central analytical mod--and interpersonal communication theory--with a focus on personal influence theory--as complementary perspectives that allow for the exploration of the complex interrelationships that influence high school students' food practices. The investigation is informed by research on: the changing foodscape and its impact on health; adolescent health and eating behavior; levels of influence on food practices; and communication and eating behavior. The investigation aims to fill a gap in the literature on the role and value of cooking in food practices among high school students. Little previous research has investigated interpersonal communication as a primary influence on food practices among high school students, and, although food preparation skills as a factor of influence on dietary habits has attracted the attention of researchers, there is much to be learned about these skills among adolescents. My interpretative approach focused on the analysis of first-person visual and textual perspectives of New Mexico high school students. The participants in the study were 14 high school students, predominantly Latinos, who were representative of the cultural diversity and demographic trends in the state's public school system. The research design incorporated visual research methods of photo-elicitation and photovoice, focus groups and interviews, and collection of self-reflective writing by participants. Grounded theory procedures were applied to the data analysis process. The study addressed two questions: 1) What do New Mexico high school students identify as the main influences on their food practices? 2) Among the influences perceived by students, what is the value attributed to: a. family and cultural heritage, b. interpersonal communication, and c. the practice of cooking? Findings reveal that the high school students perceived multiple influences on their food practices. These were categorized in the analysis as follows: cultural heritage of families, including cooking as an enactment of tradition; interpersonal influences; gendered roles; economic factors; commercial influence; and perceived health outcomes. Four primary themes emerged in students' visual and verbal narratives: the cultural heritage of family imbues value to food practices; there is a perceived friction between cultural traditions and daily food practices; cooking is perceived as a means of honoring and ensuring continuity of cultural and family heritage; and cooking is an attribute of self-reliance which may increase food access and facilitate health. Three patterns that emerged from the key findings of this study suggest theoretical insights for further research. This research found the role of family influence on high school students' food practices to be primary; second, young people are interested in practicing self-reliance through cooking; and third, cooking is an aspect of food access. This study adds to health communication research by rearticulating the value of interpersonal and socio-cultural influences on high school students' food practices and suggesting future directions for research and practice.




Food, Culture, Education, High School, Photovoice, Photo-elicitation, Nutrition

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Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Communication and Journalism

First Committee Member (Chair)

Gandert, Miguel

Second Committee Member

Balas, Glenda

Third Committee Member

Hess, Julia M