Date of Graduation

12-2021

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Agricultural & Extension Education (MS)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Agricultural Education, Communications and Technology

Advisor

Jefferson D. Miller

Committee Member

Jill Rucker

Second Committee Member

Lora Walsh

Keywords

Agriculture, Christianity, Communication, Dissonance, Eating

Abstract

The purpose of this qualitative study was to initiate understanding of how obesity in the South is still so prevalent even though the majority of inhabitants subscribe to a faith that discourages unhealthy lifestyles. Furthermore, the information presented in this research sought to fill the knowledge gap for communicators and educators concerning the dissonance between Christianity in the South and the unhealthy eating habits of Southerners. Grounded in the Cognitive Dissonance Theory, this study comprised of a semi-structured interview route in which Protestant evangelical Christians in the South (N = 11) participated in a descriptive study conducted by a committee of agricultural communication and education faculty, a religious studies faculty member, and a master’s student at the University of Arkansas. The transcripts from these interviews were hand-coded using NVivo11 software to identify themes and similarities concerning flow of information between interviews with the participants. Several major themes emerged from these interviews. One being that all participants mentioned that the purpose of food is for sustenance and survival, as well as for bringing people together. Another theme was that most participants self-identified as having an average level of knowledge of nutrition and health. Furthermore, a major theme arose among participants in which no credit was given to marketing or educational efforts; instead, participants mentioned knowledge sourcing from healthcare professionals or personal trainers, as well as online resources. Another thematic element was found when participants were asked to provide Biblical references of food or health. The main themes in this topic were “the Body is a Temple” and “gluttony.” Interestingly, when asked to explain the reasonings behind their food selections, all participants displayed a theme in referring to taste or desirability as the drive behind their food selections. Most participants claimed habitual gluttony as a personal experience in their lives. Finally, this study concluded that there are two primary modes of “trivializing” as a way of resolving dissonance, as described by the Cognitive Dissonance Theory. Some participants justified their eating habits based off of Southern culture, while others explained that their church culture supported unhealthy eating as a means of gathering in fellowship with others.

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