Date of Award

5-2012

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Legacy Department

Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management

Advisor

Schmalz, Dorothy L

Committee Member

Barcelona , Robert J

Committee Member

Griffin , Sarah F

Committee Member

Linke , Gregory

Abstract

Research has shown that peers influence each other in social situations. With childhood obesity becoming more prevalent in society, studying the influence peers have on their friends eating behaviors is important. National campaigns and laws have been promoted for the changing of food standards in schools but not recreation programs. Through direct observations of the foods children choose while amongst friends, the degree to which peers influence other children during a mealtime setting at camp is analyzed. When conducting research to test whether peers influenced children's food choices, noting the societal reasons and atmospheres in which children choose meals with peers was also important. A mixed methods approach using qualitative tools and triangulation was used to assess the social interactions of children during summer camp dining meals. The importance of this study was to assess whether peer influences on food choices exist in summer camp settings.
In order to understand children's food choices and peer influences, open-ended interviews were conducted with each participant. The audio-recorded interviews were compiled, transcribed and stored in a password-protected document on the researcher's personal computer. Upon completion of the transcribing process, the researcher coded the data by similar topic and themes. The analysis process was used to explore whether peer influences had taken place during the camp mealtime setting. Within the data, the researcher found that while there was a degree of positive and negative peer influences upon the participants, there was also autonomy in regards to their food choices. Though peers were the targets of the study, the participants acknowledged that their parents also served as influences. Finally, the data suggested that there is a need for easier access and formal introduction to the mealtime environment so that the participants could fully choose the foods they wanted. Data showed that although peers had both positive and negative influences on eating behaviors, the participants also expressed autonomous thinking concerning their food choices. However, parents also play an active role, as does access to and knowledge about availability of healthy foods.

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