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Is healthy behavior contagious: associations of social norms with physical activity and healthy eating

DOI: 10.1186/1479-5868-7-86

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Abstract:

Self-report survey data about particular physical activity (leisure-time moderate-vigorous activity; volitional walking; cycling for transport) and eating behaviors (fast food, soft drink and fruit and vegetable consumption), and social norms and support for these, were provided by 3,610 women aged 18-46 years living in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods in Victoria, Australia.Results of regression analyses showed that social norms for physical activity and eating behaviors predicted these respective behaviors relatively consistently; these associations generally remained significant after adjustment for social support.Acknowledging the cross-sectional study design, these data confirm theoretical accounts of the importance of social norms for physical activity and eating behaviors, and suggest that this is independent from social support. Intervention strategies aimed at promoting physical activity and healthy eating could incorporate strategies aimed at modifying social norms relating to these behaviors.The importance of social environmental influences on health-promoting behaviors such as physical activity and healthy eating has been increasingly recognized [1-3]. Perhaps the most frequently-examined and well-established social contextual correlate of physical activity and health eating behaviors is social support, including emotional, instrumental, and informational support [1-3]. However, social norms - the standards against which the appropriateness of a certain behavior is assessed - have been described as comprising amongst the least visible, yet most powerful, forms of social control over human behavior [4,5]. Relatively few studies have examined the association of both social support and social norms with physical activity or eating behaviors within the same sample, and findings on the relative importance of these two social constructs are conflicting [5,6]. For example, Emmons et al. found that social norms, but not social support, were signific

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