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Food preferences: an implication for nutrition education and agricultural production

Ebenezer Ojofeitimi and Banwo Olufokunbi
University of Ife, Ile-Ife, Nigeria

The selection of foodstuffs depends on many factors, including familiarity, taste, palatability, conformity, prestige, security, love, deprivation, religion, income, price, and availability, as well as the availability of substitutes and complements [1-6]. But theorizing about these factors does not appear to be as useful as knowing what foods people prefer under a given set of conditions, as well as the nutritive values of foods for which high preference is expressed, as opposed to those not highly preferred. The preferences so obtained can be useful in indicating what foodstuffs it is advisable to grow in a particular environment. Once people's food choices are known, establishing government policy that aims at increasing food production or utilization of locally available items becomes easier.

Nigeria, the largest country in Africa, is endowed with good fertile soil which makes the growth of various food crops (tubers, grains, fruits, and vegetables) practicable. Because of food taboos and prejudices, most of the tubers and legumes that are high in protein are not fully utilized [7-10]. Thus, it is essential to determine the people's preferences before embarking on large-scale production of crops. Findings may indicate if consumers will really choose those food crops that are nutritious but cheap, those that are nutritious and expensive, those that are not nutritious but expensive, or those that are neither nutritious nor expensive.

The purpose of this study, therefore, was to determine the food preferences of final-year students at three health-related institutions, namely the Community Health Officers' Training Programme, University of Ife Faculty of Pharmacy, and the Seventh Day Adventist School of Nursing.


A pre-tested questionnaire was used to obtain information from a total of 172 final year students of nursing and community health drawn from three post-secondary school institutions in Ile-Ife, Oyo State, Nigeria. The questionnaire was administered in the classroom at each of the institutions by the authors, who also ensured that the responses were independently made. The students were asked to rate some commonly available tuber and meat foods in the order in which they would prefer to eat them and would recommend them to others. The tubers were white yam, cassava, yellow yam, white cocoyam, red cocoyam, and water yam. The meats were beef, chicken, bush meat,' stock fish, pork, snail, and frozen fish. The prices of each of these foods for the last two years and their arithmetic mean price over the time period were also supplied to the students, who were very familiar with the situation of resource and food availability in the country.

TABLE 1. Distribution of respondents by order of preference of commonly available tubers in Nigeria (percentages)


Order of preference

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 +
White yam 69.4 11.0 5.5 1.0
Cassava 18.1 23.6 9.0 9.0 5.5 3.5 5.5
Yellow yam 8.0 13.9 12.5 5.5 8.0 2.7 6.9
White cocoyam 4.0 9.0 8.0 9.0 5.5 9.0 4.0
Red cocoyam 3.0 6.9 6.9 6.9 6.9 3.0 4.0
Water yam 2.7 2.7 12.5 14.0 4.0 6.9 1.0

The statistical analysis involved simple frequency counts from which relevant inferences were made.


Table 1 shows the distribution of respondents by order of preference of the tubers provided. About 70 per cent ranked white yam as first choice, while about 18 per cent ranked cassava first. The least preferred tubers were yellow yam, white cocoyam, red cocoyam, and water yam. These results notwithstanding, water yam, yellow yam, and red cocoyam have a greater nutritive content than white yam.

TABLE 2. Proximate analysis of commonly available tubers (percentage of dry matter)

Food Digestible
true protein
Fat Crude
Ash Calories 100g
1.8 0.28 0.24 80.0 2.4 391
Cocoyam 4.3 0 39 1.24 78.4 3.8 383
Cocoyam 6.4 0.20 1.63 79.7 4.7 376
3.3 0.19 1.45 83.1 2.8 318
Yam (yellow) 3 5 0 09 0.77 84.3 3.0 386
Yam (water) 5.1 0.32 2.24 78.8 5.2 373

Source: Oyenuga [13].

TABLE 3. Distribution of respondents by order of preference of available animal protein sources in Nigeria (percentages)

Animal protein
Order of preference
1 2 3 4 5 6 7+
Beef 40.3 20.8 15.3 5.5 3.5
Chicken 25.0 34.7 5.5 6.9 4.2 1.4
Bush meet 15.3 5.5 22.2 13.9 8.3 5.5
Stock fish 5.5 1.4 5.5 8.3 4.2 1.4 1.4
Pork 0 9.7 12.3 6.9 4.2 1.4 1.4
Snail 1.4 2.8 15.5 11.1 6.9 2.8 1.4
Frozen fish 6.9 6.1 5.5 4.2 2.8 1.4

Cocoyam, yellow yam, and water yam have higher digestible true protein than white yam and cassava (table 2); they are also richer in water-soluble vitamins and carotene [11-14] . In addition, at the time of study, they had the lowest, second lowest, and third lowest arithmetic mean prices respectively.

Table 3 shows the distribution of respondents by the order of preference for the animal protein sources provided. Beef was preferred most, followed by chicken and bush meat. Percentages for the preferences were as follows: 76.4 per cent, beef; 65.2 per cent, chicken; 43 per cent, bush meat; 22 per cent, pork; 19.7 per cent, snail; 18.5 per cent, frozen lady fish; and 12.4 per cent, stock fish.

Stock fish and frozen lady fish were among the least preferred meat types, yet these have appreciable amounts of digestible protein (table 4). They also had the lowest prices at the time of the study. Perhaps lack of information on the nutritive values of food plays a greater part in the problem of malnutrition in developing countries than "poverty," which is often mentioned [15-17].

Data from this study indicated that the participants, who will have subsequent direct contact with the community, either knew very little about the nutritive content of some of the locally available foods around them or did not reflect that knowledge in their preferences. Despite their educational levels, their preferences were not for the least expensive and highly nutritious foods.

These findings, although with a small sample from a single town in Nigeria, suggest a need for intensive nutrition education in Nigeria. It is not sufficient for nurses and other community health workers to know only about the chemical composition of foods; it is also essential that they understand the nutritional benefits derived from locally available foods that are cheap. The responsibility for disseminating nutritional health information rests solely with the community health workers at the primary level of prevention. Above all, the Ministries of Agriculture, Information, and Health occupy indispensable positions for ensuring the health of the population.

It is recommended that special attention be given to producing locally available food crops that are high in nutritional value, rather than to growing and marketing only what is economically viable. Information on the nutritive qualities of locally available food crops can be disseminated through the Ministry of Information and public communications media, such as radio and television. Recently, the radio has been playing a leading role in providing information to modify the habits, mores, and values of the Nigerian population. There is a need, within the news media corporation and each university and research institute, for a liaison department that can serve as a bridge for communicating research findings to the public.

TABLE 4. Proximate analysis of foods of animal origin

Animal Moisture
(N x 6.25)
Fat Calories/
100 g
Beefa 61 19b
20 257
Chickena 74 23b
2 117
Stock fishd 11 75 3 323a
Porkd 48 70 30 547a
Snaild 77 72 11 383a
Lady fishd 71 66 18 429a

a. From Manocha 1181
b. Expressed as percentage of wet matter.
c. Converted to percentage of dry matter by the authors for comparison purposes.
d From Oke [14].

The Ministries of Health in developing countries should not only continue to train community health workers to take health care to the rural areas, but must also ensure that these cadres understand the role of foods in preventing malnutrition at all stages of life, from conception to adulthood


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