Eating behaviours vary by culture and religion, and an understanding of attitudes and practices are essential for providing culturally competent nutritional guidance. The Ultra-orthodox Jewish community is characterized by poor diet, high rates of obesity, anemia and diabetes. This study aimed to acquire insights that could influence the promotion of healthier eating in the Ultra-orthodox and other closed religious communities, particularly regarding children’s eating habits and the food they consume.
In depth face-to-face recorded interviews were conducted with 20 information-rich participants: religious leaders, opinion leaders and education/health professionals from Gur and Chabad, two Ultra-orthodox Jewish religious communities in Israel. The focus was on exploring young family eating behaviours and perceived challenges to encouraging healthier nutrition in the community. Interviews were transcribed and thematic analysis employed using grounded theory.
Seven themes were identified with findings that had clear implications for the promotion of health at both the community and individual level. These included spiritual aspects of eating, deficits in knowledge and awareness, less relevance of kashrut than previously thought, the centrality of motherhood and family meals, the quality of food in educational institutions, the significance and sensitivity of Sabbath and festive meals and pragmatic considerations.
By illuminating attitudes and behaviors, the study broadens and enhances our understanding of the Ultra-orthodox communities’ perspectives on eating behaviours in the family. The findings have the potential to contribute to strengths-based health promotion for children’s nutrition. Recommendations regarding culturally competent guidance and implications for other secluded religious communities are discussed.