Self-efficacy and Social Settings Matter for Fostering Healthy Eating in Mexican Schoolchildren

Published:September 22, 2022DOI:



      To identify differences in schoolchildren's self-efficacy for eating behaviors across social settings and self-efficacy sources favoring healthy and unhealthy eating.


      A cross-sectional, mixed-methods study using self-efficacy and demographic surveys, focus groups, and school environment semistructured observations.


      Morelos, Mexico, Cuernavaca City school district, public elementary schools in the National School Lunch Program.

      Participants and Recruitment

      We studied 274 fifth- and sixth-grade children from 8 elementary schools during the 2016–2017 school year.

      Variables Measured

      Children's self-efficacy for healthy and unhealthy eating across 3 settings (school cafeteria, recess, and home). Children's perceptions about sources of self-efficacy, which favor their healthy or unhealthy eating (performance accomplishments, behavior modeling, verbal persuasion, and emotional or physiological states). Sociodemographic information was obtained from parents.


      We performed a variance components analysis with school and students within schools as random effects with paired t tests (quantitative data) and content analysis on the basis of the Social Cognitive Theory (qualitative data).


      Schoolchildren's self-efficacy for healthy eating differed across social settings, being greater in the school cafeteria than at recess or home, except for drinking water. On average, self-efficacy for unhealthy eating was lower in the cafeteria than in other studied settings. Performance achievements and behavior modeling were key sources of self-efficacy for healthy and unhealthy eating.

      Conclusion and Implications

      Sources of self-efficacy and social settings matter to understanding schoolchildren's healthy and unhealthy eating. Future interventions might consider developing collective efficacy among the school community and boosting children's participation in home meal planning. Further research could explore locus of control and other intrapersonal dimensions influencing self-efficacy.

      Key Words

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