OBJECTIVE: Freshman year at college is a time in an adolescent's life marked by a large amount of change in environment, as well as a shift in peer influences. Past research has shown that there are a variety of influences both personal and socio-environmental that affect weight control behaviors in college freshmen. This study examined the relationship between unhealthy weight control behaviors (UWCB) and two different personal and socio-environmental factors: time spent on each meal, and the perception that friends are partaking in UWCB. The Social Cognitive Theory was used to explain the intricate and intertwined association between the personal and socio-cognitive factors. METHOD: Unhealthy weight control behavior was assessed from first-year university students (n= 1241) living in campus dorms at Arizona State University. Demographics included Male (n=438) Female (n=802) first-year students with an average age of 17.5 years from various ethnic backgrounds. This was a secondary analysis of the devilSPARC study at Arizona State University and students completed a check-in survey upon participation. The survey asked for an estimation of time spent at meals and also asked the students to determine the individual's use of unhealthy weight control behaviors (vomiting, dieting, diet pills, steroids, substances, and protein shakes) as well as the observation of friend's participating in weight control behaviors. Students received a $15 Amazon gift card and devilSPARC swag as an incentive for participating. All participation was voluntary. RESULTS: This study found that unhealthy weight control behaviors were associated with spending more time on meals; this was relevant during the breakfast period. As well, the use of unhealthy weight control behaviors was associated with friends participating in unhealthy weight control behaviors in regards to both unhealthy weight loss and weight gain behaviors. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest both personal and socio-environmental factors affect the use of unhealthy weight control behaviors in college freshmen. Interventions for education should focus on body image and healthy weight control behaviors for college freshmen, intervening both before individuals enter college, as well as during the first year at university. This research is an important contribution to the literature, as it examines unhealthy weight control behaviors in college freshmen and the potential influences they face that lead them to develop such behaviors. Future studies should delve deeper into researching the relationship between time spent eating and weight control behaviors, as that has not been extensively studied in the literature.
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