Introduction It has been estimated that over one-third of all Americans die from diseases that are, in part, brought on by behaviors that compromise their health. Mokdad, Mark, Stroup & Gerberding (2000) recently reported that tobacco, poor diet, and physical inactivity were the three leading behaviorally related causes of death in the United States. It is well understood that many of these health-compromising behaviors begin in adolescence. As a result, promoting healthy lifestyles has become a national priority and is an integral component of the recommendations outlined in Healthy People 2010. Understanding why people engage in behaviors that are harmful to their health and what protective factors discourage engagement in health-compromising behaviors is the first step in developing effective intervention, education, and prevention programs. One construct that has shown predictive value with regard to health-compromising behaviors is self-efficacy.
Method Data analyzed for this project are part of a larger data set collected during "Goals for Health, " a longitudinal study funded by the National Cancer Institute. This study examined self-report data collected from 938 rural adolescents in the eighth grade (54% Caucasian and 46% African American) to determine the roles of tobacco and nutritional self-efficacy as predictors of tobacco use, exercise behavior, and dietary fat intake. In addition, this study examined the roles of sex, race, and geographic region as moderating the relationships between self-efficacy and these health-compromising behaviors.
Results Tobacco and nutritional self-efficacy were identified as significant predictors of these health-compromising behaviors. These results indicate that self-efficacy may not be a domain specific as previous research has indicated. For example, results indicate that tobacco self-efficacy predicted not only tobacco use behavior but dietary fat consumption as well. The results of this study indicate that self-efficacy may have less domain specificity when predicting behaviors that are related (eg, health behaviors). Results also indicate that sex, race, and geographic region affect the involvement in and maintenance of these health-compromising behaviors and moderate the relationship between self-efficacy and these behaviors. For example, tobacco self-efficacy was identified as a stronger predictor of tobacco use behavior for boys than it was for girls. The results of this study suggest that prevention programming should be designed with these demographic variables in mind to ensure the program's success.
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