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Wednesday 26th June 2019

East Asian Americans more likely to eat junk food

10th May 2011

Some newer immigrants to the US adopt junk food diets because they feel it will make them seem more assimilated, according to a recent study.


The researchers found that US citizens of East Asian descent were particularly prone to eating junk food as a way of feeling normal.

The study subjects were also much more likely to say they liked a typically American snack food best when asked a lot of questions relating to their identity as US citizens, than when asked out of the blue.

On the other hand, US citizens whose ancestors had come to the country much less recently did not seem to bias their food reporting according to how they felt about their nationality.

Study author Sapna Cheryan, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Washington, said that people who felt they needed to prove they belonged to a culture would often change their habits in order to fit in.

She said that this process of fitting in could lead to poorer health across a human lifespan, if immigrants and their children chose unhealthy American foods over healthier traditional foods.

For the study, the researchers gave surveys to both 'normal,' fully assimilated American college students, and American students of East Asian descent.

The researchers found that 68% of all the East Asian-descended Americans recalled being insecure about their food choices and habits.

They seemed to feel there was something wrong with using chopsticks or following cultural customs inheirited from their forebears.

By contrast, just over a quarter of people whose ancestors had arrived in the US less recently felt embarrassed about the way food was eaten in their families of origin.

In another experiment, 75% of the East Asian study subjects responded differently when questions about food followed questions about spoken American English.

In a follow-up study researchers also attempted to call the 'American-ness' of the study subjects into question, and found that it drastically affected the way East Asian-descended Americans responded, but had no effect on the control group.

The researchers primed the study subjects by telling them that the study was 'for Americans only,' then brought them to local restaurants where the participants were asked to choose a meal for themselves.

Study subjects who chose to eat 'American' food ended up getting 7 extra grams of saturated fat, compared to study subjects whose dietary preference leaned toward their ethnic origins.

Cheryan said that, in American society today, being American was associated with being white.

She said that Americans who did not fit this image, even if they were born in the US and spoke English, felt pressure to prove that they were 'true Americans.'


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