Anti-obesity media content and its impact on people's intention to eat healthy and exercise: A test of the protection motivation theory

Ritland, Raeann
Major Professor
Lulu Rodriguez
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Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication

This study employed protection motivation theory (PMT) to investigate the link between anti-obesity media content, people's threat and coping appraisals, and their intentions to exercise and diet. It sought to determine whether exposure and attention to anti-obesity media content increases people's perceived levels of severity, vulnerability, response efficacy, and self-efficacy and whether these cognitive processes, in turn, affected their intention to abide by the recommended practices to offset the threat. To gather data, an online questionnaire was sent to 16,000 students and posted on Facebook to draw nonstudent respondents.

The results indicate that attention to mediated obesity and related information significantly increases people's intention to exercise as well as their overall coping appraisals (the perceived effectiveness of the recommended behaviors and their ability to perform them). Likewise, increased threat and coping appraisals were both found to significantly influence people's intention to exercise and diet. Coping (rather than threat) appraisals more strongly predicted behavioral intent. Demographic characteristics had no significant effect on behavioral intentions. Body weight, however, was found to negatively affect intention to exercise and diet.

The findings support the power of PMT constructs to predict behavioral intent, in conjunction with attention paid to mediated information. For communication professionals, the results suggest a sharper focus on presentation techniques that are able to hold audience attention longer. Medical practitioners are urged to go beyond warning patients of the probability of occurrence and the consequences of obesity and to stress information that heighten people's self-efficacy and their assessments of the effectiveness of solutions.