A qualitative application of the integrated model of behavioral prediction to graduate student eating behaviors

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University of Alabama Libraries

The clear relationship between diet and disease supports the importance of nutrition-related health promotion efforts across the population. One group at risk for diet-related diseases is the growing population of graduate students in the United States, who represent a diverse array of adults, covering a wide age range and many racial and ethnic designations. Health promotion efforts for graduate students could have far-reaching benefits, but these efforts must be tailored to this population. This study applied phenomenological hermeneutic methodology within the theoretical framework of the Integrated Model of Behavioral Prediction to interpret the eating behaviors of graduate students. Through a series of thirty-two semi-structured interviews, qualitative data related to dietary intake, food choice, and eating-related behaviors were collected from graduate students at a large, public southeastern university. Thematic analysis was used to evaluate the transcriptions and develop an understanding of the food choice beliefs and intentions of graduate students. Findings revealed that graduate students feel different from non-graduate student peers, and that perception affects how they make choices regarding their lives and their health. They are not only working within an ambiguous space between undergraduate/graduate student and faculty member but also between young adulthood and adulthood. While negotiating their role as both student and researcher, they simultaneously find themselves negotiating new roles as they move out of young adulthood and into a life stage with transitions such as living on their own for the first time without financial support, finding a partner, getting married or engaged, cohabitation, and having children, although not necessarily in that order, or at all. Graduate students are well-educated individuals, with a general awareness and knowledge of nutrition and healthy eating practices. However, many graduate students do not consistently perform behaviors that will promote their health and well-being. Making a conscious choice to prioritize their health over other obligations and responsibilities is not perceived as culturally supported during the graduate school experience. The findings of this study help elucidate the strongest beliefs and barriers related to healthy eating practices within this population, which can later be targeted and tested for future health communications and interventions.

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Health education, Public health education, Higher education