One of the biggest challenges right now facing England is obesity. In 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that childhood obesity is one of the “most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.” The graph below shows obesity in teenagers in England has risen significantly during this 10-year period – 5%. The National Child Measurement Programme now states currently obesity among teenagers is fairly common in the UK “with around one in five 11-15-year-olds being obese.” This opens teenagers to a variety of health-related diseases such as type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease along with significantly lowering their life expectancy. Jane is classified as obese due to her BMI reading, she is a prime example of this. The social learning theory says that “Behaviour is learned from the environment through the process of observational learning.” Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
This means that our behavior is learned through observing those around us, therefore Jane’s eating habits may have been developed through the behavior of people she knows. The mum (Karen) may have the biggest influence due to her being the oldest in the house and therefore someone for Jane to look up to. As Karen works long hours her time spent on cooking healthy nutritious meals evidently shortens, thus fast food deliveries, ready meals, and oven cook pizzas could be the typical tea time option, these unhealthy choices maybe contribute to Jane’s poor eating habits. Not only this but Karen readily admits she comfortably eats, observing this Jane may think this is acceptable and copy it, further leading to her eating habits. Karen clearly also struggles with money, so when doing her weekly shopping she may buy foods that are more in her price range.
Foods with poor nutritional value such as biscuits and crisps may be regularly brought over fruit and vegetables, meaning Janes's food options are nutritionally limited and her eating habits may be affected by this. Jane’s eating habits may have been established through her mum’s poor food choices, this is due to Karen being a parental model within the house, children observe the attitude and eating behaviors of their parents and parents control the food brought and served at home. There is evidence TV can influence a person’s eating habits.MacIntyre et al (1998) found “that the media has a major impact on both our attitudes to food and what we eat.” This implies that the media can impact the eating behavior of the audience through social learning theory.
Foods remembered from media showings, in particular TV adverts, often get requested by children. Food adverts can increase food purchase requests from children to parents, have an effect on children’s products and brand preferences, and thus effecting their food choice. Jane prefers to watch TV; therefore, the impact of media may greatly contribute to her eating habits. Food items targeted to young audiences in adverts are usually those that are high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat such as Mcdonald's. Watching adverts that promote this, Jane may think it is acceptable to consume these types of foods. Children are highly likely to imitate people they perceive as similar to themselves, this includes people of the same gender and age. The school consists of many young girls like Jane, if Jane spends most of her time around people with poor eating habits, then eventually she may pick them up too. This could be due to wanting to fit into the “social norm,” which is the accepted behavior that an individual is expected to conform to in a group. Observing her peer's eating habits, Jane may think that this is what she should be eating and in turn copy their behavior. This could be a major influence on how her eating habits have developed. Although most schools implement and promote healthy eating, many schools still lack knowledge of what is required for a healthy diet. This along with a lack of parental knowledge could be a cause of Jane’s eating habits. If Karen and the school are not emphasizing and promoting good eating habits then Jane may be unsure of what foods to eat, instead, Jane is more than likely to be choosing more appealing food and drink items such as fizzy pop and chocolate if her knowledge of what is acceptable to eat is vague. Jane compares herself to her peers which often makes her upset. Emotion and stress can cause comfort eating, in hopes that it’ll relieve the stress. As comfort eating is something that Karen readily admits to, Jane could be doing the same.
The foods chosen tend to be those high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat. There is no evidence that proves comfort eating relieves stress, however, it is likely Jane may feel worse about herself afterward and continue to compare herself to her peers, causing an emotion/eating cycle. To conclude, social learning theory alone is not entirely responsible for shaping Janes’s behavior towards food, the theory ignores other factors, such as not taking into account mental changes (mood and emotion). However, I personally think social learning theory does play a large role in Jane’s eating habits. This is because in society she will be surrounded by many role models, such as her mum, children’s TV characters, friends, school peers, and teachers. These models provide examples of behavior to observe and copy, Jane will be paying attention to some of these models and may remember their behavior, which may then be imitated and could be the main reason why her eating habits have developed.
- World Health Organization (WHO)The information center/NHSNational Child Measurement Programme
- Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.