Understanding the Perceived Determinants of Weight-related Behaviors in Late Adolescence: A Qualitative Analysis among College Youth

Melissa C. Nelson, Rebecca Kocos, Leslie A. Lytle, Cheryl L. Perry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

135 Scopus citations


Objective: Identify key factors underlying college weight gain, nutrition, and physical activity. Design: Six focus groups and one-on-one interviews. Setting: Large, public Midwestern university. Participants: Fifty full-time freshman and sophomore students. Main Outcome Measures: Factors influencing weight and weight-related behaviors among undergraduates. Analysis: Qualitative analysis using a specific thematic approach, identifying themes appearing consistently across transcripts from recorded sessions. Results: Major themes that emerged in describing important influences on weight, dietary intake, and physical activity included: unhealthful food availability on campus, snacking, late-night eating, alcohol-related eating, eating because of stress/boredom, and food in student dorm rooms. Other factors related to physical activity included: negative experiences using campus recreation facilities; poor weather; and lack of time/time management, motivation, and social support for exercise. Conclusions and Implications: A wide range of factors may underlie weight gain and unhealthful diet and physical activity patterns during the college years. Young adulthood is an important and overlooked area for obesity prevention efforts. Universities need to take an active role in designing and evaluating weight-related health promotion intervention strategies focusing on a variety of targets, including individual-, social-, and environmental-level influences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-292
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Nutrition Education and Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by a grant from the Minnesota Medical Foundation. Additional salary support was provided by the University of Minnesota Obesity Prevention Center.


  • exercise
  • food habits
  • lifestyle
  • universities
  • weight gain


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