Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Health Education

First Advisor

Ogletree, Roberta


Like other adults in the U.S., college students, have high rates of obesity and overweight, and they have a pattern of poor diet and physical inactivity. Emerging adulthood is a key developmental period for building life-long habits and behaviors, and health theory suggests that one’s social environment and amount of social support affects health behaviors, particularly among women. With the technological advances of Web 2.0, or social media, the opportunity for providing social support for health behaviors through the online social environment now exists; social media is a game changer for both research and practice related to understanding the social environment. The purpose of this descriptive qualitative study was to describe the ways in which social networking sites (SNS) provide college females with social support for their diet and/or physical activity goals. The social cognitive theory and previous research on the construct of social support, provided a conceptual framework for this study. With a purposive sample of 12 college females, data from three sources were collected over the course of four weeks. Journal responses and daily observations of each participant’s social networking site activity via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest were collected the first three weeks, and interviews were conducted the fourth week. Qualitative analysis was conducted at both the participant and group level, and results inform how the women engage with the topics of diet and physical activity during their daily SNS usage the ways in which their SNS experience provides them with support for diet and/or physical activity goals. Of the five functional measures of social support, participants most often indicated receiving emotional support, informational support and validation support from SNS usage. The findings of this study highlight current social media practices in college females, which can better inform the planning and implementation of health behavior programs that include an online, social component. Furthermore, the results serve to highlight examples of social support naturally occurring in the online environment, thereby adding to the body of literature about ways in which social support influence health outcomes.




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