Social support, information seeking, & healthy eating

Public health concern over the U.S. obesity epidemic has stimulated research addressing information resources that may facilitate healthier lifestyle decisions. Although the public has access to a tremendous amount of health information via both mediated and interpersonal channels, it is less clear how specific resources uniquely contribute to healthy eating habits and whether these distinct information channels operate together to predict these outcomes.

Dr. Christopher McKinley (associate professor in SCM) and Dr. Paul J. Wright (assistant professor, Media School, Indiana University) co-investigated a process through which social support and online health information seeking operate together to impact healthy eating behavior. Their 2014 study was published in Computers in Human Behavior and examined the association between diet and weight-focused informational support and online information seeking and the impact of this association on college students’ healthy eating intentions. The study employed a cross-sectional survey design to answer the following questions:

RQ1: What is the relationship between informational social support and online nutrition/healthy diet information seeking?

RQ2: Is social support from important others associated with the perceived helpfulness of online nutrition/healthy diet information?

RQ3: Does online health information seeking mediate the relationship between informational social support and healthy eating intentions?

The findings from this study support the health consciousness perspective, whereby informational social support motivates greater information seeking from other resources (such as the Internet). These results suggest that in response to more informational support received from others, health-oriented students may seek out the web for additional diet/nutrition information. In addition to psychosocial factors, health information seeking may be a key intervening mechanism that explains how social support contributes to healthier behaviors.

Overall, the study results suggest that by raising students’ level of health consciousness, informational social support may trigger online health information seeking that in turn fosters healthier lifestyle decisions.

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Dr. Christopher McKinley’s current research examines persuasive appeals aimed at promoting healthier behavior. He is particularly interested in the influence of narrative-based appeals on promoting health decision-making and is working on a project examining the influence of unique components of obesity-focused testimonials on healthy eating behavior. Dr. McKinley is also exploring the role of various social and cultural factors on food label use and organic food consumption. Follow him on Twitter: @christo49ers