Testing Social-Cognitive Theory to Explain Physical Activity Change in Adolescent Girls from Low-Income Communities

By Dewar, Deborah L.; Plotnikoff, Ronald C. et al. | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, December 2013 | Go to article overview

Testing Social-Cognitive Theory to Explain Physical Activity Change in Adolescent Girls from Low-Income Communities


Dewar, Deborah L., Plotnikoff, Ronald C., Morgan, Philip J., Okely, Anthony D., Costigan, Sarah A., Lubans, David R., Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


Purpose: The aim of this study was to test the hypothesized structural paths in Bandura's social-cognitive theory (SCT) model on adolescent girls' physical activity following a 12month physical activity and dietary intervention to prevent obesity. Method: We conducted a 12-month follow-up study of 235 adolescent girls ([M.sub.age] = 13.2 years, SD = 0.4) from 12 secondary schools located in low-income communities. At baseline, participants completed SCT scales related to physical activity (i.e., self-efficacy, intention, parental support, and outcome expectations). At baseline and 12-month follow-up (postintervention), participants wore accelerometers for 7 days. Structural equation modeling was used to determine if Time 1 measures predicted physical activity at 12-month follow-up after adjusting for baseline activity. Results: The model explained 28% and 34% of the variance in physical activity and intention, respectively. Model fit indexes indicated the data were a good fit to the model; however, only self-efficacy was associated with physical activity at 12 months. There was no support for intention or outcome expectations as proximal determinants of behavior. Self-efficacy was associated with outcome expectations and parental support; however, only outcome expectations predicted intention. Conclusions: Current findings indicate a large proportion of the variance for physical activity and intention remains unexplained and that the proposed pathways in the SCT model were not fully supported. Future model testing may need to consider augmentation or integration of theoretical models, which may include ecological components if we are to advance our understanding of physical activity behavior in this subgroup of the adolescent population.

Keywords: accelerometer, health behavior, self-efficacy

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Despite the extensive health benefits and protective effects of engaging in regular physical activity (Warburton, Nicol, & Bredin, 2007), participation levels among many adolescents remain inadequate with a large proportion failing to achieve the recommended 60min of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2008). Furthermore, physical activity participation rates decline during adolescence, and there is evidence to suggest that this decline is more pronounced in adolescent girls and among those of low socioeconomic position (SEP; Brodersen, Steptoe, Boniface, & Wardle, 2007; Nader, Bradley, Houts, McRitchie, & O'Brien, 2008). Consequently, establishing successful interventions that improve physical activity behavior in high-priority adolescent groups is needed, and an important part of this process is improving our understanding of what drives physical activity behaviors in these groups. As such, researchers have been prompted to adopt models of social cognition to help identify what role various psychological and social factors may have in influencing physical activity behavior in young people (Hagger, 2009).

Social-cognitive theories (e.g., Bandura's social-cognitive theory [SCT], theory of planned behavior [TPB], health promotion model [HPM]) typically propose a framework or model that specifies relationships among psychological and social factors within a scheme that is hypothesized to determine a health behavior. Testing theoretical models extends our understanding of health behavior by examining how proposed factors may interrelate to predict or explain patterns of behavior. This research is important because the findings can help to support or refute a theory's utility in guiding effective theoretically based interventions.

Prominent among models of social cognition is Bandura's (1986) SCT, which provides a framework for explaining why people acquire and maintain healthful behaviors. According to Bandura (1986), human behavior is the product of the dynamic interplay of personal, environmental, and behavioral factors. …

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