Hero Image

Adolescents Eat Better When Setting Guided Goals

The Issue

Adolescents are less physically active and eat more calories than past generations. They spend about 7.6 hours each day using electronic media, and only 1.75 hours being physically active. Intakes of calcium, iron, and fruit and vegetable intakes are low while added fats and sugars, especially in soda, are high. These eating and activity behaviors have resulted in increased obesity rates for adolescents. Today 34 percent are overweight and 18 percent are obese. Adolescent obesity increases the risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, and impacts school performance.

What Has ANR Done?

A behavioral strategy known as goal setting has been successful in promoting positive nutrition and physical activity behavior changes in adults. Setting goals is important in many behavior change theories. Historically, goal setting has been a one-size-fits-all approach; the participant sets a goal, or the practitioner assigns one. The cognitive needs of adolescents demand an alternative approach. UC Davis and Cooperative Extension researchers developed an innovative intervention that includes a new strategy, Guided Goal Setting. Students choose personal motivators, then decide which of their weakest dietary areas they want to improve, based on a needs assessment. Using www.Eatfit.net, a choice of three goals appears, then minor goals; the student works on the one selected for the remainder of the program. 'Guided goal setting' ensures goals are appropriately designed while encouraging the budding independence of adolescents. Guided goal setting is the major behavior change strategy in two curricula used by EFNEP, FSNEP and 4-H: Eatfit and Walkfit.

The Payoff

Guided Goal Setting Works!

In a group of ethnically diverse middle school students, those completing the program with guided goal setting improved their eating and physical activity behaviors compared to students without the guided goal setting component in the curriculum. Among participants trying to reach their goals, those in the treatment group scored significantly higher than the controls on dietary behavior, physical activity behavior, and physical activity self-efficacy. No gains were found for dietary self-efficacy. Results were reported in the International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health. Assessment methods such as keeping a 24-hour diet and physical activity diary were effective in helping teens change their behaviors. Guided goal setting is a proven strategy to help adolescents develop lifelong healthy behaviors.

Clientele Testimonial

"Students enjoying the guided goal setting process, including setting major goals such as increasing fruit and vegetable intake and minor goals such as adding one serving of fruit to cereal three times a week." - Teacher


Supporting Unit: Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP)

Supporting Unit:
Susan Algert, Marcel Horowitz, Marilyn Townsend, (530) 754-9222, mstownsend@ucdavis.edu