Explaining dietary intake in adolescent girls from disadvantaged secondary schools. A test of Social Cognitive Theory

Appetite. 2012 Apr;58(2):517-24. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2011.12.012. Epub 2011 Dec 29.


Much of the research on the determinants of dietary behavior has been guided by Bandura's Social Cognitive Theory (SCT), yet few studies have tested the utility of its proposed structural paths. The aim of this paper was to test the capacity of SCT to explain dietary behaviors in a sample of 357 adolescent girls (13.2±0.5 years) from 12 secondary schools located in low-income communities in New South Wales, Australia. Participants completed validated SCT scales assessing nutrition-related self-efficacy, intention, behavioral strategies, family support, situation, outcome expectations, and outcome expectancies. Participants completed a validated food frequency questionnaire, from which, the percentage of total kilojoules from core-foods, non-core foods and saturated fat were calculated. The theoretical models were tested using structural equation modeling in AMOS. The models explained 48-51% and 13-19% of the variance in intention and dietary behavior, respectively. The models provided an adequate fit to the data, and self-efficacy was positively associated with healthy eating and inversely associated with unhealthy eating. However, the pathway from intention to behavior was not statistically significant in any of the models. While this study has demonstrated the utility of SCT constructs to explain behavior in adolescents girls, the proposed structural pathways were not supported. Further study of the role that implementation intentions play in explaining adolescent girls' dietary behaviors is required.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Australia
  • Diet / psychology*
  • Exercise
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Education
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Poverty / psychology*
  • Schools
  • Self Efficacy
  • Social Support
  • Sports