An analysis of the impact of reference groups on collectivist families’ meal social interaction behaviour in Sierra Leone

Sheku Kakay

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Background: Reference groups predominantly shapes the meal social interaction behaviour of most Sierra Leonean families as it is designed to orient their thinking about the symbolic role of hierarchy and authority, which help define the character of children as the grow-up and teaches them responsibility. The re-shaping and streamlining of the family members’ character help foster a better relationship between them and promotes closer ties even with external relations, neighbours and others within the community. In addition, it significantly helps the family to plan its food purchase and consumption habits, which prevents them from experiencing food scarcity. However, reference groups impinge on the effective use of resources and food distribution in the family, which limits their ability to access variety, quality and adequate food. The differences in cultural backgrounds between family members and their extended relations impacts on the family negatively in terms of thieving, divulging of family secrets, backbiting and most significantly breeding jealousy and nepotism. This paper, therefore, critically evaluates the impact of reference groups on collectivist families’ meal social interaction behaviour in the Sierra Leonean context.

Methods: The researcher used one-to-one semi-structured qualitative interviews to investigate families’ views and experiences of their mealtimes’ behaviours. In this research, due to the fact that the selected samples of families were unknown, the researcher used snowballing; convenience; and experiential sampling in recruiting respondents, including males and females from different cultural, ethnic, religious and professional backgrounds, across the different regions of Sierra Leone. The interviews were guided by a topic, and this procedure was followed until no new themes emerged. The interviews were recorded using an audio recorder, which were transcribed verbatim and analysed using a thematic approach

Results: Twenty families (comprising 20 husbands and 20 wives) with a sample size of 40 participants were interviewed in this study. The paper highlights the influence of reference groups on the behaviour of Christian and Muslim families (husband and wife) at mealtimes and draw attention to its significance as influencer of collectivism, particularly in relation to its impact on the social interaction between similar and dissimilar gender groups. The author critically analysed the influence of reference groups on families’ meal social interaction behaviour and presents a comparative summary of how gender affects the meal behaviours of different gender and religious groups.

Conclusion: This study suggests that reference groups play a key role in influencing families’ behaviour at mealtimes, which espouse positive and negative effects on their meal social interaction behaviours. To capture its symbolism among the different social groups, the author critically reviewed and presented a comparative analysis of the similarities and differences in behaviour between and across gender and religious groups.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-52
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Public Health and Nutrition
Issue number2
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2 May 2018


  • collectivism/individualism
  • reference groups
  • In-group-Out-group
  • social interaction
  • consumer behaviour


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