Health Beliefs, Behaviors, and Environmental Factors related to Diet and Physical Activity among College Students and their Parents

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Virginia Tech

Diet and physical activity behaviors may be influenced by internal and external factors that may change over time, in response to personal development and changes in environments. The current literature does not explore specifically how the different factors and particularly Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) constructs, affect behaviors of college students.

This project, aimed to compare the influence of SCT constructs between college students and parents in healthier foods (HF) and physical activity (PA) categories (first part) and SCT on diet and physical activity of students (second part). In the spring of 2009 the cross-sectional survey was conducted with students and their parents from three different courses. Out of 720 students, 404 (56.1%) completed the survey. Out of 173 contacted parents, 118 (68.2%) completed the survey. Spearman rank correlation and multiple regression models were applied to test relations between SCT and behaviors in student-parent pairs and student groups.

Student-parent pairs showed positive correlations for self-efficacy (p=0.0004), self-regulation (p<0.0001), and positive outcome expectations for HF (p= 0.03). For PA, social support from family (p<0.0001), self-efficacy (p=0.0003), self-regulation (p=0.004), and negative outcome expectations (p= 0.02) were significantly correlated. None of the HF or PA behaviors were correlated for student-parent pairs. Students who took at least one health-related course in college had significantly higher Godin (exercise) scores (p=0.014) than students who never took such a course. The students with a course had PA influenced by self-regulation, outcome expectations, and support from friends. Students with no courses had been influenced by friends' support, home exercise equipment, and outcome expectations. The students with a health course consumed more fiber (p=0.035) and less fat (p=0.008) than the other students. The correlation of SCT variables with diet revealed that self-efficacy and self-regulation were significantly correlated with all food variables, whereas negative outcomes were correlated only with fat (p<0.0001) and fiber (p=0.003).

Beliefs about HF and PA may have demonstrated continuity between generations but dietary and PA behaviors may have been under stronger influence of changes in skills/knowledge and environments. Future research may focus on recruitment of balanced groups of participants who will represent similar skills/knowledge and interests.

college students, parents, Social Cognitive Theory, diet, physical activity