Date of Award

2014

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Biological and Environmental Sciences

Department

Interdepartmental Program

First Advisor

Geoffrey W. Greene

Abstract

The food system has been cited as unsustainable due to the reliance on natural resources and contribution to global pollution. Technological advances will play a major role in mitigating these negative consequences but consumers will also play a role through food choices. Green Eating (GE) is the concept of practicing more environmentally conscious eating behaviors and is currently defined as: eating locally grown foods, limited amounts of processed/fast foods, eating meatless meals at least one day per week, choosing organic foods as much as possible, and only taking what you plan on eating. Little research exists investigating college student perspectives’ of environmentally conscious food choices and few interventions exist motivating college students to adopt environmentally conscious eating behaviors. The objectives of these studies were to identify perceived benefits, barriers, and motivators of GE in college students and use that information to develop a web-based intervention to motivate college students to adopt GE behaviors. Four focus groups were conducted consisting of a sample of college females (n=20), stratified by stage of change (SOC) for GE into precontemplation/contemplation (PC) and action/maintenance (AM). Two focus groups were conducted per stage group. Questions included their perceived definition, benefits, barriers, and motivators of GE. Focus groups were recorded and transcribed verbatim to identify themes based on the questions. A majority of students discussed similar concepts as found in the definition for GE such as: choosing organic foods and shopping at farmers’ markets but only a few students mentioned consuming less meat and reducing food waste. Students mentioned improving health and supporting the local community as benefits of GE. Most barriers of GE differed by group with PC discussing a lack of knowledge and additional cost. Social pressure when eating with family or friends was one major barrier common between the two groups. A web-based intervention program (GE Project) was developed to motivate college students to adopt GE behaviors. The design was quasi-experimental as various general education classes were randomized into experimental (n=716) or control (n=575) group. The program was five weeks in duration and consisted of four modules based on GE concepts: an introduction to GE, local eating, reducing food waste, and choosing environmentally friendly proteins. Participants completed baseline (experimental: n=257; control: n=367) and post (experimental: n=198; control: n=304) assessments of the GE survey consisting of behaviors and various Transtheoretical Model concepts associated with motivating behavior change such as stage of change (SOC), decisional balance (DB) with factors split into pros and cons, and self-efficacy (SE) with factors split into school and home. Participants also completed knowledge items to demonstrate learning module content. The study was effective in significantly increasing GE behaviors, DB pros, SE school, and knowledge in experimental compared to control but did not reduce DB cons or increase SE home. Experimental participants were also more likely to be in later SOC for GE. The GE Project was effective in increasing GE behaviors in college students. Motivating consumers of any age towards adopting GE could assist in potentially mitigating negative consequences of the food system on the environment. Future research could conduct additional focus groups involving male participants or tailor the intervention to participant stage to further increase the motivational effects. The modules could also be designed for other populations such as adult consumers or other universities.

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