The Challenge of Teen Nutrition: An Ecological View of Sociocognitive Influences on Urban, African-American Adolescent Diet Quality
Wrobleski, Margaret Mary
Atkinson, Nancy L.
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The routine food choices that adolescents make impact their nutritional status, health, and their risk of developing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis in the future. Nutrient requirements during adolescence are comparable to those in early infancy, emphasizing the importance of a high quality diet for healthy growth and development. A myriad of personal, social, and environmental factors influence adolescents in shaping their dietary intake and quality of diet. Low-income, African-American adolescents in Baltimore were identified as having sub-optimal nutritional intake compared to national dietary recommendations. This study explored the dynamic and relative contributions that factors within three environmental levels (personal, social, and community) made as predictors of diet quality in a sample of low-income, urban African-American adolescents using an integrated Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) / ecological theoretical framework. It was hypothesized that 1) the personal, social, and community environmental levels of dietary influences would all significantly contribute to diet quality, with community environment making the largest relative contribution; 2) self-efficacy for healthy eating moderated the relationship between parental beliefs about nutrition and diet quality; and 3) self-efficacy for healthy eating moderated the relationship between peer eating behaviors and diet quality. There have been very few studies using an integrated SCT/ecological model to explore the dietary influences on adolescent nutrition, especially on this demographic. The significant influence the SCT construct of observational learning has on adolescents was evidenced in this study by the positive relationship found between diet quality, parental beliefs about nutrition, and peer eating behavior. Younger participants in early adolescence and females were predominately guided by their parents' beliefs about nutrition, while males in this study appeared to identify more with their peers' nutrition-related behaviors. This study revealed that parents and peers play important roles in African-American adolescents' food choices and subsequent diet quality. Nutrition interventions should focus on parent-teen interactions and on improving the dietary habits of parents so they may be more effective role models for youth. Nutrition promotion research targeting young African-American men may consider using group interactive behavioral interventions with peers that build and reinforce peer modeling of positive nutrition behaviors.