Adolescent health & body image: a follow-up study
Larocque, Wendie Joanne
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The purpose of this study was to understand the views and perceptions of health and body related issues among grade 11 students, five years after participating in a program: "Understanding Body Image: Helping Students Make Informed Decisions." The program was designed to address the concerns of young people regarding their body shape with the goal of preventing body dissatisfaction. Thirteen students agreed to participate in the follow-up study. Qualitative methods, consisting of two one-hour in-depth semi-structured interviews were used to gain an understanding of how young people perceive their own health and body image and secondly to understand what influences their health practices, beliefs and attitudes. Overall, the participants were aware of the components of a healthy lifestyle. They identified friends/peers, parents, school, TV, magazines and the Internet as sources which provided them with health information and played a role in the students' perceptions of a healthy lifestyle. The findings from the study also showed that the participants were very aware of the various sources of pressure that exist regarding body weight and shape. Although they identified various sources of pressure, the media was the most prominent source of pressure discussed. Despite the awareness of these pressures and the knowledge of society's unrealistic "ideal" body type, the students continued to feel dissatisfied with their current body size and shape. The grade 11 students in this study recalled the program they took in grade 6 and the activities which they participated in. Overall, they felt that the program provided them with useful information regarding healthy lifestyles behaviors. However, they reported that their ability to transfer the knowledge they gained into practice now as a teenager was somewhat limited. Also, the views and perceptions of the students in this study were similar to those they had after they participated in the intervention in grade 6. Although observation and focus group discussions with the students in grade 6 from the earlier study showed that this knowledge transferred into some positive behavior changes, the findings from this study indicated that the behaviors were not carried out over long periods of time and that the students had difficulty maintaining healthy lifestyle behaviors. The overall findings from this study highlight the need for continued health education throughout the student's schooling years. It also suggests that intervention programs need to teach students convenient and practical ways to incorporate healthy lifestyle behaviors into their own lives as they move from elementary into secondary school. This is particularly important as young people make the transition into high school when the pressures to 'be popular' or 'look good.' have escalated. The need for intervention(s) in grade 8 may be especially crucial since this is the time when students are getting ready for a major life change.