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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The need to belong and health promotion Dowd, Anna Justine


The overall purpose of this PhD thesis was to examine the need to belong and a sense of belonging in relation to health-enhancing cognitions and behaviours. In chapter 1, an overview is provided of the need to belong and a sense of belonging in relation to human behaviour. Next, in chapter 2, the findings are presented from two studies that examined the effectiveness of framing exercise as a means of boosting social skills (versus health benefits) for increasing self-regulatory efficacy, exercise intentions, and exercise behaviour among socially isolated individuals. Results from Study 1 revealed that the social skills manipulation led to greater self-regulatory efficacy (but not exercise intentions). In Study 2, all participants reported engaging in more exercise; however, those in the social skills condition also reported a greater sense of belonging than those in the health benefits comparison condition. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 present findings from a program evaluation that sought to examine a group-based mentorship lifestyle program for adolescent girls, which aims to foster a sense of belonging among participants. In chapter 3, results from the outcome evaluation are presented in which participants reported significant increases in health enhancing cognitions and behaviours at the end of, and 7 weeks after, program completion. Findings discussed in chapter 4 revealed that participants’ cognitions at the end of the program prospectively predicted physical activity and healthy eating behaviour 7 weeks after program completion. In chapter 5, findings from a qualitative interview-based study indicated that participants enjoyed the program, reported changes in important health-enhancing cognitions and behaviours and developed meaningful relationships with program mentors and other program participants (i.e., a sense of connection to the program). Finally, a summary is provided in chapter 6 of the novel contributions of this research as well as limitations and future directions for inquiry. In conclusion, the research presented within this dissertation demonstrates that the need to belong can be used to improve health-enhancing cognitions and exercise behaviour (chapter 2) and feelings of belonging are an important component of effective mentoring programs that target health behaviours among adolescent girls (chapters 3, 4 and 5).

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