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Influences on Older Women’s Adherence to a Low-Fat Diet in the Women’s Health Initiative

Kearney, Margaret H. PhD, RNC; Rosal, Milagros C. PhD; Ockene, Judith K. PhD, and; Churchill, Linda C. MS

Original Articles

Objective Most studies of dietary change during aging have focused on maintaining adequate intake by impaired elderly, and little is known about factors affecting dietary change for preventive purposes in older individuals. The purpose of this exploratory study was to determine the major behavioral influences on older women’s adherence to a dietary fat reduction intervention.

Method A diverse sample of 92 women aged 55 to 80 was recruited from two East Coast sites of the Women’s Health Initiative. All the women were participating in the dietary modification arm of WHI, had received the same dietary instruction, and were in the maintenance phase of the intervention. The women were classified by nutritionists as adherent or nonadherent to a diet limiting fat intake to <20% of total calories. Focus groups and telephone interviews were conducted, and textual data were coded and sorted using content analysis techniques within the four categories of the Stimuli-Organismic Factors-Response Repertoire-Consequences (SORC) behavioral model. Frequencies of responses within categories were tabulated and compared qualitatively.

Results Adherent women were more likely to report assertiveness, a lifelong commitment to reduced dietary fat, satisfaction with their lifestyle changes, and having applicable knowledge and skills. Nonadherent women reported more difficulty resisting negative emotions and prior food preferences and habits; they were also more concerned about negative responses from others.

Conclusions Enhancing adherence of older women to a dietary fat reduction program will require shifting priorities away from conforming to social pressure and using high-fat foods for personal satisfaction and moving toward enhancing motivation and commitment to long-term health.

Associate Professor, School of Nursing (M.H.K.), Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts; Department of Medicine (M.C.R., J.K.O.), Project Director (L.C.C.), University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts.

Address reprint requests to: Margaret H. Kearney, PhD, RNC, School of Nursing, Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Ave., Chestnut Hill, MA 02467-3812. Email:

Received for publication July 19, 2000; revision received May 11, 2001.

Copyright © 2002 by American Psychosomatic Society
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