Date of Award

January 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Joelle Ruthig


Obesity is an increasing problem worldwide, often described as an epidemic. Approximately 70% of men and women nationwide are overweight and/or obese, with roughly 34% meeting criteria for obesity. Women are increasing obesity rates faster than men and more women than men are currently obese nationwide and worldwide. Obesity leads to numerous physical, psychological, and social consequences and often a poor quality of life. Women are at risk for increased health complications, and college in particular has been associated with weight gain. Improper energy balance is a significant contributor. Achieving adequate exercise each week has been proven effective in obesity prevention, weight loss, and weight maintenance. To date, obesity prevention campaigns have displayed only small to moderate effectiveness and behavior change has been minimal and short-lived. The current study used the Protection Motivation Theory (PMT) to assess female college students' perceptions of the threat of obesity to themselves, the perceived consequences of obesity, and the costs/benefits of exercising. Participants were provided with information regarding obesity implications and benefits of exercise (experimental group) or benign information (control group), and intent toward and actual behavior change after two weeks were assessed. High self-efficacy and the perception of low response costs to engaging in exercise were significantly correlated with frequency of prior physical activity and predicted greater intent to exercise and higher frequency of exercise at the two-week follow-up. While the treatment paradigm did not lead to significant exercise behavior change, exercise behavior increased in the expected direction. Such results suggest that campaigns promoting obesity prevention provide ways to make exercise easy to achieve, with low personal cost to the individual, as well as increasing individuals' belief that they are capable of engaging in exercise.