Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis




Clinical-Community Psychology

First Advisor

Dawn K. Wilson


Given both recommendations to increase qualitative methods in African American communities to design obesity prevention programs and the importance of families, peers, and self-perceptions during adolescence, this study used an ecological framework to explore the influences of family, peer, and intrapersonal factors related to physical activity (PA) and healthy eating in African American adolescents. Specific aims included identifying similarities and differences in youth perceptions of ecological factors by sex as well as examining consistencies in themes across health behaviors by sex. Nine focus groups were conducted with adolescents (n=45, 100% African American, 51% girls, 12.6±1.2 years, 29% obese) from low-income, underserved communities. Sessions were audio-taped, transcribed, and coded by independent pairs of raters (r =.75). QSR NVivo 8 was used to determine themes. General themes related to parenting style, parental monitoring, family interactions and adolescent body image emerged in addition to specific themes related to PA and healthy eating. Parenting themes indicated that caregivers established rules with adolescents who expressed a desire to increase autonomy. Adolescents valued monitoring as a way for parents to demonstrate they cared and discussed family interactions such as communication and engaging in activities together. Although adolescents expressed both satisfaction and dissatisfaction with their appearance, boys reported receiving a wider range of directive feedback about appearance from parents, while girls reported a wider range of directive feedback from peers. Adolescents discussed various social support mechanisms (e.g., role modeling, tangible support) in the context of what families and peers currently do and could do differently to facilitate PA and healthy eating. Boys discussed receiving a more diverse range of support mechanisms for PA and healthy eating from families and described being satisfied with what peers were doing to help them engage in PA. Girls wanted peers to decrease sedentary behaviors to help them be active and their families to increase informational support to improve eating habits. Although several themes were consistent across health behaviors, adolescents generated more behavioral strategies for decreasing negative eating behaviors in contrast to increasing PA. Findings indicate that tapping into the immediate social context of adolescents that includes families and peers may be important for promoting PA and healthy eating. Interventions aimed at African American adolescents should strive to integrate family variables (rules, autonomy support, monitoring) to facilitate positive peer interactions as well as positive self-perceptions related to body image and engaging in healthy behaviors.


© 2010, Sara Mijares St. George