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Eating Habits And Social Self Concept Psychology Essay

Eating Habits And Social Self Concept Psychology Essay

A good eating behavior and social self notion is a valuable resource for reducing the incidence and impact of health problems, for recovery, for coping with life stressors, and for improving quality of life.  There is a growing body of scientific evidence that shows our lifestyles play a huge part in how healthy we are.  From what we eat and drink, to how much exercise we take, to how emotional we are and whether we smoke or take drugs, all will affect our health and life, not only in terms of life expectancy, but how long we can expect to live without experiencing chronic disease.

University students always running from class to class barely leaves enough time for sufficient and healthy meals. Many times walking around campus, we will see university students munching on a bag of chips or eating a personal junk food or burger. With the abundance of assignments and test, there are not many healthy options for University students to grab on the go, and even if the healthy foods are expensive compared to unhealthy ones. Most of the university students will be forced to purchase the cheaper food because of the financial problem. As a University student, money is not as easily accessible; going with the cheaper unhealthier option is usually the case.

Therefore, the administration in campus needs to pay more attention toward eating habits among university students in Malaysia. For instance, café in campus can provide some nutrition and healthy food with the lower price. This is an easy way to encourage students in nurturing their eating habit without having too much fast food or junk food that can affect their health status.

2.0 A Problem Statement

University students may encounter personal, family, social, and financial stresses while trying to cope with their academic challenges. Such constraints could affect their eating behavior and health status which, in turn may have negative effects on their studies. For instance, without a healthy eating behavior, students will feel hardly to concentrate on their study indirectly affect their social self concept if they found difficulties in solving their assignments and tests.

A poor eating behavior and social self notion had been discovered among Malaysian University students. Hence, a survey of 180 students has been going on in order to determine the University students’ eating behavior in Malaysia including body weight control and the extent of fear of being fat, their social self concept that reflects the five selves namely, the psychological self, the social self, the sexual self, the family self and the physical self.


To determine Malaysian University students’ eating behavior including body weight control and the extent of fear of being fat.

To determine Malaysian University students’ social self notion that reflects the five selves namely

To compare eating behavior and social self concept determinants between male and female students.

4.0 Review of Literature

Eating habits and social self concept are playing an important role among Malaysian University students in today society. As we know, University students always involved into stresses while trying to handle and deal with their academic challenges. Hence, healthy eating and social self-controlled are vital for their health and well being. Adequate nutrition is vital for ensuring university students overall emotional and physical health.

A multitude of physiological to psychological factors is known to interact and affect eating behavior that may lead to undesirable consequences. Serious disturbed eating behavior such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are well documented (O’Dea, 1995; Button et al., 1997). As part of the normal developmental process from adolescence to adulthood, various biological, intellectual, psychological and social factors interact and contribute towards the formation of the personal identity (Robbins, 1996). In the quest for personal identity, self concept is formed and it includes feelings of self esteem and one’s body image (Brackney, 1979). Negative self concept feelings and attitudes can lead to social, health and psychological problems including eating disorders and depression. Several studies have reported relations between eating behavior with poor self-esteem, body image, peer and family relationships (Riedan & Koff, 1997; Buddeberg-Fisher et al., 1996; Grant & Fodor, 1988).

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University students encounter pressures in not only having to cope with their studies but also to deal with personal, social and family concerns. When beset with psychosocial problems, they may succumb to poor eating behavior. Studies in Korea and Japan have reported poor eating habits and inappropriate dieting behavior among high school and university students (Kim, Kang & Kim, 1999; Nakamura et al., 1999). Gender differences have been reported in several studies related to body image as reviewed by O’Dea (1995). Female students showed a more disturbed eating behavior and more instances of deviation from normal weight compared to male subjects (Buddeberg-Fischer et al., 1996).

Previous studies found that the rapid changes in physical growth and psychosocial development have placed university students as a nutritionally vulnerable group with unhealthy eating behaviors that did not meet dietary recommendation (Savige et al., 2007; Shi et al., 2005; WHO, 2005). Typical eating patterns among university students are meal skipping, snacking, eating away from home, fast food consumption for meal and snack consumption and unconventional dietary pattern such as adopting vegetarian diet, specific weight loss diet and an overall reduction of food intake (Savige, 2007; Shi et al., 2005; WHO, 2005). Studies have also shown that university students who have healthy eating behaviors were more likely to perform better academically than university students who have unhealthy eating behaviors (Affenito, 2007; Kleinman et al., 2002; Pollitt and Mathews, 1998).



Respondents are selected from undergraduate students in a Malaysian university. 180 male and female students aged between 18 to 30 years to participate were circulated on the campus. Volunteers were recruited according to a pre-determined convenient sample size of 60 Malay, 60 Chinese and 60 Indian students (with equal number of male and female participants in each ethnic group). Thus, a total of 90 male and 90 female respondents were included in the study that was carried out between January to March in 2009. Respondents who agreed to participate were requested to sign a consent form. Anthropometric measurements were taken of all the respondents. They also had to complete a set of self-report questionnaires.

5.2 Anthropometry

All respondents were measured for body weight, height, waist and hip circumference. Body weight was taken using a digital weighing scale (TANITA, Japan) to the nearest 0.1kg. Subjects were weighed bare-footed and with light clothing on. Height was recorded using a body meter (SECA, Germany) to the nearest 0.1cm. The tape was suspended two meters from the floor against a straight wall.

Figure 1: Framework of the determinants for eating behavior and social self notion


Based on figure 1, we can know that eating behavior and social self-notion are closely related to each others. To possess a healthy lifestyle among University students in Malaysia, a well-controlled of eating behavior and social self concept are very crucial.

5.3 Eating behavior

Eating Behavior

Social Self Notion

Table 1: Indices of eating behavior and social self notion

As shown in Table 1, three indices based on Stunkard & Messick’s Eating Behavior Scales (1985) were used to assess directly eating behavior among University students in Malaysia. There are:

(i) Index of Restrained Eating

(ii) Index of Uninhibited Eating

(iii) Index of Desire to Eat

‘Restrained Eating’ is the degree to which one restricts the amount and types of foods consumed, while ‘Uninhibited Eating’ is the extent to which one allows himself/herself to eat even when he/she is not hungry or is already full. ‘Desire to eat’ indicates the frequent feeling of hunger or perceived hunger and wishing to eat at any time. These three categories comprised statements that could be answered either “True” or “False”. One point was given for each positive statement answered true and one point for each negative statement answered false. A high score indicates respectively a high degree of restrained eating, uninhibited eating or a strong desire to eat.

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5.3.1 Fear of being fat

An important factor that influences eating behavior is the extent to which an individual is afraid of becoming overweight or obese. The higher the score obtained, the higher is the fear of fat. The mean Index of Fear among the male and female subjects was 22.8±5.7 and 22.9±6.8 respectively out of a maximum of 40 points. This result indicates that the students do not have a high level of fear of becoming fat. There was no significant difference between the genders on the concern with the risk of putting on weight. This finding indicates that these students do harbor some concern of becoming fat.

Table 2: Percentage and index of fear of being fat

5.3.2 Body weight control

Another important determinant of eating behavior is whether the individual is practicing any form of dietary control in order to reduce body weight. This study used Benbrook’s Body Weight Control Questionnaire (1988) to appraise dieting behavior. The questionnaire includes ‘common’ weight loss strategies such as skipping meals and eating diet foods, as well as more extreme actions such as induced vomiting and taking laxatives. The higher the score, the higher is the frequency of taking actions toward reducing weight.

Both the Index of Mild Dieting and Index of Extreme Dieting Behavior showed low mean scores, indicating that the University students generally were not taking actions to control their dietary intake. There were no significant gender differences for both the dieting indices.

Table 3: Score for index of mild dieting behavior (Body Weight Control)

Table 4: Score for index of extreme dieting behavior (Body Weight Control)

5.4 Social self notion

The social self notion comprises several perspectives. These include the Psychological Self (the mental picture and feelings that young adults have about their bodies and health), Family Self (how young adults feel about their parents, the kind of relationships they have with them, and the emotional atmosphere of the home; worth as a family member), the Social Self (assesses peer relationships and friendship patterns, and how well an individual fares in accomplishing the tasks of learning and planning for a vocational future); the Physical Self (feelings about various parts of the body, physical condition, appearance and body strength); and the Personal Self (feelings of personal worth with regard to skills, abilities and characteristics) (Offer et al., 1988).

5.4.1 Psychological self (Index of Body and Self Image)

The mean Index of Body and Self-image, respectively 32.6±5.2 and 32.7±4.9 for males and females appear to indicate that the students in general have a moderate level of positive feelings about themselves and their worth socially. There was no significant difference in this respect between the sexes.

Table 5: Index of body and self image (Psychological Self)

5.4.2 Family self (Index of Family Relationships)

The University students obtained quite a high score for the Index of Family Relationships indicating that they generally have a satisfactory relationship with their families. The female subjects have a higher mean score than the males Thus, female students appear to enjoy better relationships with their families than the males. Notwithstanding this statistical difference, most of the students regardless of gender, expressed positive feelings towards their families.

5.4.3 Social self (Index of Vocational and Educational Goals)

The mean score for the Index of Vocational and Educational Goals was 28.4±2.7 for males and 28.6±2.9 for females out a maximum of 42 points, with no significant differences between the genders. A smaller percentage of the students agreed with the statements that indicated a low level of motivation and a preference for idleness. Thus, there appears to be a noteworthy proportion of students in the university who are disinterested in their studies and vocational future.

Table 6: Index of social relationships (Social Self)

5.4.4 Physical self

The students generally expressed positive feelings for their physical self. A majority of the male subjects expressed satisfaction with all their body in relation to physical strength. This indicates an overall lower positive feeling among the female about their physical self in relation to weight gain, compared with the male counterparts’ feelings toward gaining body strength. The female students expressed most concern for the appearance of their stomach and thighs.

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5.4.5 Personal self (Index of Self esteem)

Students showed a moderate level of self-esteem based on their scores for this category. The mean Index of Self Esteem of males is higher compared to females although there was no significant difference between the genders. As we know, males are responsible to their own family after they graduated or get married. Therefore, they have more self-esteem to show their power and energy when doing anything and wish people to appreciate and proud of their hard work.

5.5 Anxiety and depression

The mean scores for the Index of Anxiety for male and female subjects were 7.95 ± 0.3 and 8.32 ± 0.2 respectively. Based on the HADS classification, these students might be described as experiencing a mild level of anxiety.

Table 7: Score for Index of Anxiety

Meanwhile, the result for the Index of Depression namely, 5.19 ± 0.4 as the mean score for males and 4.31 ± 0.3 for females indicates that the students are not suffering from depression. The differences between sexes for both the indices on anxiety and depression were not statistically significant.

Table 8: Index of Depression

Both eating behavior and self concept may be affected by feelings of anxiety and depression. In the case of university students, stress from academic, financial and social pressure may lead to anxiety and depression that could have deleterious effects on self esteem and health. Statistical results showed that female student get the higher level of anxiety. This phenomenon may be due to the self-beauty behavior among female students. Based on the body mass index (BMI) of female students, a significant relationship has showed on eating behavior with respect to dieting practices and fear of becoming fat. Increased BMI may lead to a greater likelihood to exercise weight control and posses greater fear of becoming fat. Female students always subjects with low self-esteem tend to practice some form of dieting. Therefore, they will feel upset and anxiety with the increasing of their BMI. Due to this reason, it is undoubtedly that female students have the higher of anxiety and depression compared to male students. Compared to index of depression, male students get the higher value compared to female student. It is because the self-esteem among male students is higher. Hence, they mostly like to show off and afraid of failure. When facing failure or unwanted results, they will feel depressed and hard to brace up themselves due to their high self-esteem.

Discussion and conclusion

Eating behavior and social self-notion characteristics in a sample of university students were delineated and comparisons made between the genders. In this respect, there were some significant differences between the male and female students.

The female students appeared to be significantly more restrained in their eating behavior than the males and this might explain the higher prevalence of underweight among the females than the males. In contrast, the males showed a tendency for uninhibited eating habits which could lead to overweight. In this study, there was a higher prevalence of overweight among the males than in the females.

In terms of having goals for the future, both male and female students generally feel encouraged about their future career prospects. However, male students consistently ranked higher than the females in answering affirmatively to each of the negative statements that imply indifference and indolence towards study and work.

A significant difference was found between the genders for the Index of Family Relationship, indicating that the female students tend to have a better relationship and understanding with their family members compared with the male counterparts.

Body mass index was found to show positive and significant correlations with dieting practices, indicating that male and female students with higher BMI status attempt to take action to control weight gain.

Majority of the male and female students expressed satisfaction for their body and physical conditions. Emotionally, both male and female students seem to experience mild anxiety but were not depressed. The reasons for their anxiety remain to be identified.

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