Diet behaviour among young people in transition to adulthood (18-25 year olds): A mixed method study

Amudha Poobalan, Lorna Aucott, Amanda Clarke, William Smith

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Background: Young people (18–25 years) during the adolescence/adulthood transition are vulnerable to weight gain and notoriously hard to reach. Despite increased levels of overweight/obesity in this age group, diet behaviour, a major contributor to obesity, is poorly understood. The purpose of this study was to explore diet behaviour among 18–25 year olds with influential factors including attitudes, motivators and barriers. Methods: An explanatory mixed method study design, based on health Behaviour Change Theories was used. Those at University/college and in the community, including those Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) were included. An initial quantitative questionnaire survey underpinned by the Theory of Planned Behaviour and Social Cognitive Theory was conducted and the results from this were incorporated into the qualitative phase. Seven focus groups were conducted among similar young people, varying in education and socioeconomic status. Exploratory univariate analysis was followed by multi-staged modelling to analyse the quantitative data. ‘Framework Analysis’ was used to analyse the focus groups. Results: 1313 questionnaires were analysed. Self-reported overweight/obesity prevalence was 22%, increasing with age, particularly in males. Based on the survey, 40% of young people reported eating an adequate amount of fruits and vegetables and 59% eating regular meals, but 32% reported unhealthy snacking. Based on the statistical modelling, positive attitudes towards diet and high intention (89%), did not translate into healthy diet behaviour. From the focus group discussions, the main motivators for diet behaviour were ‘self-appearance’ and having ‘variety of food’. There were mixed opinions on ‘cost’ of food and ‘taste’. Conclusion: Elements deemed really important to young people have been identified. This mixed method study is the largest in this vulnerable and neglected group covering a wide spectrum of the community. It provides evidence base to inform tailored interventions for a healthy diet within this age group.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)909-928
JournalHealth Psychology and Behavioral Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2014


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