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Health Education and Promotion


Holly Godwin


The social cognitive theory suggests that social surroundings influence health behaviors, and social modeling literature supports that eating behaviors are influenced by social norms. Eating decisions are especially vulnerable to social influence during the transition to college, although current interventions do not address social influence in the context of the eating environment itself or consider how men and women may experience this environment differently. This generic qualitative study explored how freshmen women perceived their experiences eating in a cafeteria setting. The research questions investigated freshmen women’s perceptions about social influence on self-efficacy, self-regulation, outcome expectations, and modeling of normative information during mealtime in the cafeteria. A purposeful sample of 13 freshmen women non-health majors who lived on campus at a small liberal arts college were interviewed. Inductive coding founded in social cognitive theory and social norms constructs guided thematic analysis. Developing themes were assessed in light of original data and triangulated using direct observations and reflexive memos. Friends were valued as a source of support and increased self-efficacy, facilitating self-regulation and identification of outcome expectations through modeling of descriptive norms. The larger social environment increased fear of judgement, decreased self-efficacy, and lowered prioritization of self-regulation and outcome expectations. These findings can be used by campus stakeholders to help facilitate health promotion strategies on campus that create positive social change by facilitating social support for freshmen women in the cafeteria and empowering them to develop healthy behaviors in a vulnerable and uncomfortable social environment.