Self-regulation, self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and social support: Social cognitive theory and nutrition behavior


Background: Understanding the need for and accessibility to healthier foods have not improved the overall diets of the U.S. population. Social cognitive theory (SCT) may explain how other variables, such as self-regulation and self-efficacy, may be key to integrating healthier nutrition into U.S. lifestyles.Purpose: To determine how SCT accounts for the nutritional content of food purchases and consumption among adults in a health promotion study.Methods: Participants were 712 churchgoers (18% African American, 66% female, 79% overweight or obese) from 14 churches in southwestern Virginia participating in the baseline phase of a larger health promotion study. Data were collected on the nutrition related social support, self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and self-regulation components of SCT, as well as on the fat, fiber, fruit, and vegetable content of food-shopping receipts and food frequency questionnaires. These data were used to test the fit of models ordered as prescribed by SCT and subjected to structural equation analysis.Results: SCT provided a good fit to the data explaining 35%, 52%, and 59% of observed variance in percent calories from fat, fiber g/1000 kcals and fruit and vegetable servings/1000 kcals. Participants’ age, gender, socioeconomic status, social support, self-efficacy, negative outcome expectations, and self-regulation made important contributions to their nutrition behavior—a configuration of influences consistent with SCT.Conclusions: These results suggest a pivotal role for self-regulatory behavior in the healthier food choices of adults. Interventions effective at garnering family support, increasing nutrition related self-efficacy, and overcoming negative outcome expectations should be more successful at helping adults enact the self-regulatory behaviors essential to buying and eating healthier foods.

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Correspondence to Eileen S. Anderson Ed.D..

Additional information

The study conducted at the Center for Research in Health Behavior, Department of Psychology, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, was supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute (RO1CA79469). The trial is registered in the National Cancer Institute’s PDQ trial registry (VPISU-05-209).

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Anderson, E.S., Winett, R.A. & Wojcik, J.R. Self-regulation, self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and social support: Social cognitive theory and nutrition behavior. ann. behav. med. 34, 304–312 (2007) doi:10.1007/BF02874555

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  • Behavioral Medicine
  • Social Cognitive Theory
  • Outcome Expectation
  • Food Purchase
  • Healthy Food Choice