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Social influences on eating and physical activity behaviours of urban, minority youths

  • Elizabeth T Anderson Steeves (a1), Katherine A Johnson (a2), Suzanne L Pollard (a3), Jessica Jones-Smith (a1), Keshia Pollack (a4), Sarah Lindstrom Johnson (a5), Laura Hopkins (a1) and Joel Gittelsohn (a1)...



Social relationships can impact youths’ eating and physical activity behaviours; however, the best strategies for intervening in the social environment are unknown. The objectives of the present study were to provide in-depth information on the social roles that youths’ parents and friends play related to eating and physical activity behaviours and to explore the impact of other social relationships on youths’ eating and physical activity behaviours.


Convergent parallel mixed-methods design.


Low-income, African American, food desert neighbourhoods in Baltimore City, MD, USA.


Data were collected from 297 youths (53 % female, 91 % African American, mean age 12·3 (sd 1·5) years) using structured questionnaires and combined with in-depth interviews from thirty-eight youths (42 % female, 97 % African American, mean age 11·4 (sd 1·5) years) and ten parents (80 % female, 50 % single heads of house, 100 % African American).


Combined interpretation of the results found that parents and caregivers have multiple, dynamic roles influencing youths’ eating and physical activity behaviours, such as creating health-promoting rules, managing the home food environment and serving as a role model for physical activity. Other social relationships have specific, but limited roles. For example, friends served as partners for physical activity, aunts provided exposure to novel food experiences, and teachers and doctors provided information related to eating and physical activity.


Obesity prevention programmes should consider minority youths’ perceptions of social roles when designing interventions. Specifically, future research is needed to test the effectiveness of intervention strategies that enhance or expand the supportive roles played by social relationships.

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