Development of a Social Support Scale for Health Behaviors in College Students

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Virginia Tech

According to Leahey, LaRose, Fava, and Wing (2011), nearly half of all young adults are considered overweight or obese. Further, on average, young adults gain between 1 and 2 pounds annually, making them more susceptible to yearly weight gain than any other age group. College students in particular may be vulnerable to continual weight gain over the course of their 4-year education; a review by Hellmich (2008) revealed that many students gain between 6 and 9 pounds during their freshman year alone. Despite the increased risk for weight gain during the young adult years, Leahey and colleagues report that this age group is underrepresented in behavioral weight management programs. Therefore, research must determine the psychosocial factors that are likely to influence young people in their efforts to manage their weight and health. Social support may be such a mechanism; a study by Strong and colleagues (2008) demonstrated that social support was influential in college students' decisions to participate in exercise and avoid sedentary behaviors. However, a scale measuring social support has not been developed for use with college students in regard to general health behaviors. In the current study, a 37-item self-report instrument was developed. This social support measure was administered to 466 Virginia Tech undergraduates, along with a battery of questionnaires assessing other health habits. Results revealed three possible types of social support, and indicated that social support — while unrelated to body mass index — is related to healthy eating behaviors, vigorous exercise, and health choices of significant others.

social support, social support scale, health behaviors, weight management, college students