Abstract: Messages from Near or Far: A Targeted Nutritional Message Design Experiment

◆ Joshua E. Santiago, University of Kentucky
◆ Rachael A. Record, San Diego State University
◆ Lourdes S. Martinez, San Diego State University

Background: In the United States, nutrition has been named a top public health priority (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017). The challenge of eating a nutritious diet is intensified among young adults in college due to balancing multiple roles such as jobs, social/ Greek life, coursework, and sports, which all add to the pressure of being a well-rounded college student (Thomas et al., 2017). On average, 70% of college students gain between 12 and 37 pounds during their four-year college career (O’Connor, 2012). Health promotion strategies promoting nutritious eating habits are essential for increasing awareness of healthier food options on college campuses.
Purpose: To advance communication efforts seeking to improve nutritious eating among college students, this study employs the health belief model (HBM: cite Becker here) to test the impact of message source in a targeted-message design experiment. This study hypothesizes that differences across promotional materials will occur from local, state, and federal organizations (H1-3). Finally, this study seeks to understand if tenants of the HBM predicts intention to eat a nutritious diet (RQ1).
Method: This study sought to test the role of message source among college students regarding healthy eating messages through a 3 (message source) x 2 (message format) online pre-/post-test experimental design with random group assignment. Undergraduate students (n=326) were recruited to participate through SONA, an online research recruitment system that exchanges research participation for extra credit. The survey instrument assessed components of the HBM: perceived susceptibility, perceived severity, perceived threat, perceived benefits, perceived barriers, self-efficacy, cues to action, and behavioral intention.
Results: To investigate the hypothesized differences between sources, a MANOVA was performed with the five dependent variables. Results showed no statistical differences across message source on HBM outcomes. Further analyses were conducted to examine within source differences on the dependent variables. With regard to constructs of the HBM, only severity and self-efficacy produced statistically significant results that led to intention. However, the local and federal messages were the only messages that produced significant results with regard to intention to engage in nutritious eating. Finally, to test the research question, which anticipated the tenants of the health belief model would predict intention to eat a nutritious diet, a regression analysis was conducted. Results of this analysis found the model to significantly explain 42.5% of the variance in intention to engage in nutritious eating (r2 = .425, F[4, 321] = 59.37, p < .001). Perceived severity (β = .116, p < .05), benefits (β = .384, p < .001), and self-efficacy (β = .369, p < .001) were all significant predictors of intention. However, perceived susceptibility was not a significant predictor of intention to eat a nutritious diet (β = .009, p > .05). Perceived barriers were not included in the model due to the lack of measure reliability.
Implications: In sum, bringing awareness to proper nutritional habits at the college-age level is important. This information is particularly needed for health practitioners and universities seeking to help college students navigate healthy eating while living on campus.