Date of Award

8-2012

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Food Science and Human Nutrition

Advisor

Mary Ellen Camire

Second Committee Member

Adrienne White

Third Committee Member

Matt L'Italien

Abstract

Adolescent obesity is a national concern that affects health, well-being, and quality of life. Study objectives included determining social media and internet usage habits of Maine teens, perceptions of a healthy weight, and identifying motivators for healthy lifestyle behaviors in order to provide the framework to develop positive social media messages around food, nutrition, and physical activity (PA). Subjects (n=55; mean age = 16 years old; age range 14-18 years old) completed a 90-minute focus group and a 10-item questionnaire. Nine focus groups (average group size = 5) were conducted using a pilot-tested 14-question discussion guide. Focus groups were audio- and video-taped and tapes were transcribed verbatim. Questions 1-5 and 11-14 were tallied and summarized and questions 6-10 were analyzed using the grounded theory approach to qualitative analysis. Chi-square statistical analysis was conducted for question five. Results from the current study indicate teens’ preference for informal, internet- based resources for nutrition and fitness-related information. Social media websites offer a unique opportunity for positive messages surrounding healthy lifestyle choices to reach a large number of teens quickly and efficiently. Facebook is the preferred social media site among subjects of the current study. The top three motivators for healthy lifestyle choices among teens in the current study were self-esteem, the desire to be attractive to the opposite sex, and athletic performance. Messages for teens should target these motivators for behavior change interventions. Teens identified a number of means that would help them to eat healthier and be more physically active, including increasing opportunities for PA in school, increasing access to recreational facilities, improving the school food environment to promote healthy food choices, and increasing teens’ nutritional knowledge base and food preparation proficiency. A critical point of control for teens with regard to their food choices identified in the current study is packing school lunch (i.e. a bag lunch). This point of control may serve as a starting point to improve self-efficacy in making healthy food choices and could be an area of focus for a nutrition-related message. Educational needs identified in the current study include healthy weight range standards, cooking skills and healthy recipes, how to read and interpret food and nutrition labels, and current recommendations for physical activity type and quantity. Increasing the knowledge base of nutrition and PA areas identified through positive social media messages could elicit behavior change and healthy lifestyle choices among Maine teens. Results from the current study will be used to develop positive social media messages surrounding healthy lifestyle behaviors to reduce the prevalence of adolescent overweight and obesity and promote healthy weight maintenance. Future research should be conducted to determine the extent to which social media messages elicit behavior change among adolescents and whether teens prefer to receive messages from other teens or from health professionals. The current study is significant because it is the first to this to this researcher’s knowledge to determine the type, method of delivery, and preferred medium of health-promoting social media messages geared specifically to teens in Maine.

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