Interactions Between Diet, Physical Activity, and the Sociocultural Environment for Older Adult Health in the Urban Subarctic

  • Britteny M. HowellEmail author
Original Paper


This study sought to examine the relationship between the sociocultural factors that shape diet, physical activity, and nutritional status outcomes among seniors in Anchorage, Alaska. Alaskan seniors are an ideal study population because the state has the fastest growing senior population in the United States. Since much health research in the circumpolar north focuses on the influence of the economic or rural environment on nutrition, there is a need to investigate the ways social relationships shape diet, physical activity patterns, and nutritional status in urban spaces. This cross-sectional study included 82 community-living men and women (mean age = 74 years) in Anchorage. Participants underwent anthropometric measurements and completed questionnaires on their dietary intake, physical activity, and the sociocultural influences on their diet and exercise practices. T-tests indicate that diet and physical activity practices in this sample do not meet national recommendations and that diet differs adversely from national reference samples. Mann–Whitney U tests indicate the media and friends are associated with increases in energy expenditure. Family influences increased fruit consumption, while participation in cultural and social events increased intake of fats and sweets. Reaching older adults through a variety of channels, including the media, social networks, and culturally responsive programs can alleviate some of the barriers to healthy diet and exercise patterns.


Circumpolar north Nutrition Exercise Social influences Older adult 



Financial support for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation Arctic Social Science Program (#PLR-1331019), Central States Anthropological Society’s Leslie A. White Award, Alaska Anthropological Association’s James VanStone Award, and Hope Community Resources. The content of this work is solely the responsibility of the author, who wishes to express gratitude to Deborah Crooks and Ryan Harrod for providing critical feedback on this manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Research involving Human Participants

This study obtained informed consent from the University of Alaska Anchorage and the Alaska Area (tribal) IRB.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Population Health SciencesUniversity of Alaska AnchorageAnchorageUSA
  2. 2.National Resource Center for Alaska Native EldersUniversity of Alaska AnchorageAnchorageUSA

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