College Students' Judgment of Others Based on Described Eating Pattern

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Background: The literature available on attitudes toward eating patterns and people choosing various foods suggests the possible importance of "moral" judgments and desirable personality characteristics associated with the described eating patterns. Purpose: This study was designed to replicate and extend a 1993 study of college students' judgments of others based on described dietary fat patterns. Methods: Participants rated male or female peer models described as having low-fat, high-fat, or "good fat" eating habits. Data were analyzed using factorial MANOVA to determine effects of model gender and described eating pattern on two scales: likeability and personal success orientation. Results: The results of this analysis revealed no significant overall effect of model gender. However, there was a significant overall effect of described eating pattern (F(6, 574)=38.48, p<.01). There were no significant model gender by described eating pattern interactions. Low-fat and good-fat male and female models were rated statistically higher on the success orientation scale, but these males were statistically less likeable than high-fat males. Discussion: Perceptions of others, and self-perceptions based on beliefs about others' attitudes and opinions, are strong influences in the college-age population. Thus, these attitudes may prove to be high barriers to adoption of healthier eating patterns. Translation to Health Education Practice: Understanding such judgments may help health education professionals tailor interventions designed to improve young adults' eating patterns.

**********

In 2004, more than 66% of Americans were classified as overweight or obese. (1) Weight and diet-related chronic disease are recognized as resulting from a combination of energy intake (amount and types of foods consumed) and energy output (level of physical activity). (2,3) Recent research findings indicate that modest weight loss, achievable through healthy eating patterns and activity levels, prevents the development of Type 2 diabetes better than drug regimens in at-risk people. (4)

A great deal of research is available on attitudes toward physical activity (5,6) and attitudes toward overweight and obese people (7); thus, in this study, we chose to focus on attitudes toward those who consume certain types of foods, specifically high-fat, low-fat, and "good fat" foods. The literature available on attitudes toward eating patterns and people choosing various foods suggests the possible importance of "moral" judgments (8) and desirable personality characteristics (9,10) associated with the described eating patterns. Given this knowledge base, the current study was designed to determine the existence of similar types of attitudes in our sample. To do so, we used what Stein and Nemeroff refer to as a "universe of ... adjectives," ((8(p483)) including some basic personality descriptors borrowed from two lists of traits developed by Asch (11) and Birnbaum. (12)

For the current study, it was important to choose variables that would be relevant for college students, with respect to influences on behavioral choices. This focus resulted in the selection of items that would address a person's perception that a peer was likeable and oriented toward personal success. If young adults view peers who eat a recommended diet as less likeable or less oriented toward success, they may believe others will view them similarly should they choose such a diet. Such attitudes may negatively influence the likelihood of optimal diet behaviors and other healthy choices, even in the face of information suggesting the benefit of such choices.

The food environment, and in particular the nutrition information environment, has changed, even within the last decade. For example, rather than a diet that is low in fat, many medical authorities and nutritionists now advise people to adopt eating patterns that approximate a Mediterranean-style diet (13)--One that includes abundant vegetables and a high olive oil intake, more fish than red meat, and the substitution of other monounsaturated fats for saturated fats. …