Manchester Metropolitan University's Research Repository

    Normative misperceptions of unhealthy snacking amongst 11- to 12-year-old secondary school students

    Calvert, Sian, Dempsey, Robert C and Povey, Rachel (2021) Normative misperceptions of unhealthy snacking amongst 11- to 12-year-old secondary school students. Appetite, 166. p. 105462. ISSN 0195-6663

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    Younger adolescents are at an age where they have increasing control of their diet, and where peers become an important social reference for acceptable and normative dietary behaviours. These normative perceptions are often inaccurate and can lead to the development of unhealthy eating practices; although, the role of normative misperceptions of peers' unhealthy snacking behaviours in younger adolescents' personal snacking behaviours is not clear. The current study was a cross-sectional analysis of baseline data from a social norms-based healthy eating intervention sampling two secondary schools in deprived areas of England. Students aged 11–12 years (n = 252) completed self-report measures of their demographic characteristics and personal behaviours, attitudes, intentions, and normative perceptions (descriptive and injunctive norms), relating to unhealthy snacking. Results indicated students overestimated peers' daily unhealthy snacks consumption by approximately 3.2 portions, misperceived peers to have more positive attitudes towards unhealthy snacking and more negative attitudes towards reducing snacking. The greater these misperceptions of peers' behaviours and attitudes, the more likely students were to consume unhealthy snacks and have positive attitudes about unhealthy snacking. Girls had a stronger intention to reduce their snacking behaviours if they had more positive attitudes to reducing snacking behaviours and misperceived peers to also have a positive attitude. In summary, 11- to 12-year-olds misperceive the snacking behaviour and attitudes of their peers, and such normative misperceptions are associated with students’ own snacking behaviours and attitudes. Interventions which challenge these misperceptions may assist in reducing the social acceptability of unhealthy snacking and in reducing unhealthy snacking amongst young adolescents.

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