Abstract

Background: Higher prevalence of weight gain and unhealthy eating patterns have been reported among college students indiverse settings. Social support and self-efficacy, key elements of the social cognitive theory, are useful tools in modifyinghealth-related behaviors.Objective: Toassess social support from family and friends as well as self-efficacy in choosing healthier foods and increasingphysical activity levels among overweight and obese university students in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).


Methods: Social cognitive theory measures,social support and self-efficacy were assessed at baseline in a sample of 127overweight and obese university students participating in an on-line nutrition education program in the UAE. The socialsupport scale consisted of 14 items with subscales (reducing fat and increasing fruits and vegetables) and 7 items related tophysical activity beliefs. The self-efficacy scale consists of 33 items related to healthier eating beliefs with 3 subscales (increasefiber, reduce sugar and reduce fat) and 24 items related to physical activity with 2 subscales (integrating physical activity intodaily routine and overcomingbarriers). Anthropometric measurements, including weight, heightand body fat were measured.


Results:The mean age of the participants was 20.7 ± 1.89 years.They were categorized according to their Body Mass Index intooverweight (48.4%) or obese (51.1%) with a mean waist circumference of 92.3± 11.49. Participants reported significantly highersocial support from family members compared to friends for reducing fat (mean scores: 3.1 2 ± 0.67 vs. 2.8 ± 0.63, respectively;p<0.001) and increasing fruits and vegetables (3.1± 0.66 vs. 2.7 ± 0.63, respectively, p<0.001). Regarding the self-efficacy andhealthier foods, the highest scores were found for reducing fat sub-scale (mean scores:68.0 out of a maximum possible scoreof 100). Participants were more certain to integrate physical activity into their daily routine compared to overcoming barriers(mean scores 68.5±19.40 and 42.9 ± 17.58, respectively).


Conclusion:The results of this study provide an insight into the role of social support on choosing healthier foods. Interventionsfocusing on strategies for overcoming barriers to physical activities are warranted.