Preadolescents’healthy eating behavior:peeping through the social norms approach
The rising childhood obesity rate is a major public health challenge. The objective of this study is to examine key underlying mechanisms for peer-related social influence on preadolescents’ healthy eating behavior by including factors closely linked with the quality of preadolescents’ relationship with peers.
A cross-sectional study was conducted in a convenience sample of 278 Lithuanian preadolescents, recruited from a public school. A questionnaire containing sociodemographic questions, questions about food intake, peer-related social norms of healthy eating, social self-efficacy, vegetable preference, need for peer approval and feeling of belonging were applied. Data was analyzed using structural equation modeling.
The results of the SEM showed that social self-efficacy predicts feeling of belonging to the peer group and need for peer approval. Feeling of belonging and need for peer approval predict actual intake of vegetables via injunctive norms of healthy eating. However, neither feeling of belonging nor need for peer approval predicted descriptive norms of healthy eating. Contrary to our expectations, descriptive norms were found to be unrelated with actual intake of vegetables, though vegetable preference predicted actual intake of vegetables. Vegetable preference was not predicted by injunctive or descriptive peers’ social norms of healthy eating.
The findings of this study offer insight for informing parents, teachers and for social norms marketing interventions by stressing the importance of social relations when the aim is to encourage healthy eating among preadolescents.