Food, eating, and happy aging: The perceptions of older Chinese people

Colette J. Browning*, Zeqi Qiu, Hui Yang, Touhong Zhang, Shane A. Thomas

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    20 Citations (Scopus)


    China's government and its people have for a long time focused on food security for its population as one of the most important issues in economic and social development. Many older people in China have lived in times when food security was not stable. Thus, while food has a central position in Chinese culture for all Chinese people, it is of particular pertinence to older people. In this paper we explore the meaning of food and eating in the lives of older Chinese people in China and how it contributes to healthy, thus happy aging. Focus groups and qualitative interviews were used in this study. Participants were recruited from the rural Yongfu Province of Southwest China, and the urban Fangzhuang and Haidan districts in Beijing. Forty-two participants were recruited aged 62-83 years of age. All focus groups and interviews were conducted in Mandarin and audiotaped with the participants' permission. Audio-tapes were transcribed by a Chinese speaking researcher and then were translated into English. Data were analyzed continuously and comparatively, transcripts were coded, and themes and sub-themes were identified. The initial analysis and interpretation were then presented and discussed at a workshop with all the authors. Two major themes emerged-the quantity of food and the quality of food required to have a happy old age. Participants discussed the desire to eat "until you are full" because of their experiences of famine during childhood. However, they also believed that as an older person they should eat less for their health, particularly less high fat foods. The importance of the food quality and food affordability was also discussed. Grain and meat were characterized as "good" foods and important in their diets for a happy old age. The participants, especially those from urban areas, were concerned with food safety. The high cultural importance of food for older Chinese in China was confirmed in this study. Social and economic lifespan experiences continue to impact on the food and eating attitudes and practices of older Chinese. The food related life experiences of older Chinese in China are quite different from younger Chinese and health promotion messaging needs to be informed by these unique perspectives in order to maximize its effectiveness.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number73
    JournalFrontiers in Public Health
    Issue numberAPR
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


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