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When Students Patronize Fast-Food Restaurants Near School: The Effects Of Identification With The Student Community, Social Activity Spaces And Social Liability Interventions

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

Brennan Davis Cornelia (Connie) Pechmann

2023

US schools have fast-food restaurants nearby, encouraging student patronage, unhealthy consumption, and weight gain. Geographers have developed an activity space framework which suggests this nearby location effect will be moderated by whether people perceive the location as their activity space. Therefore, we study whether students perceive a fast-food restaurant near school as their activity space, and whether social marketing messages can change that perception. We conducted six studies: a secondary data analysis with 5986 students, a field experiment with 188 students, and four lab experiments with 188, 251, 178, and 379 students.We find that students who strongly identify with their student community patronize a fast-food restaurant near school (vs.farther away) because they view it as their activity space, while students who weakly identify do not. For example, in our field experiment, 44% vs.7% of students who strongly identified with the student community patronized the near versus farther restaurant, while only 28% versus 19% of students who weakly identified patronized the near and farther restaurants comparably. We also find that to deter the strong identifiers, messages should convey that patronage is a social liability, e.g., portray student activism against fast food. We show that standard health messages do not change perceptions of restaurants as social activity spaces. Thus, to combat the problem of fast-food restaurants near schools causing unhealthy consumption, policy and educational interventions should focus on students who strongly identify with their student community and find ways to weaken their perceptions that fast-food restaurants near schools are their activity spaces.

Fast Food Proximity To School, Identification With School, Social Marketing Message

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