Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



Major Professor

Lisa Jahns

Committee Members

Betsy Haughton, Gene Fitzhugh


The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship that subjective social status indicators and perceived stress share with unhealthy diet behaviors. A total of 898 incoming freshmen students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) completed a web-based survey as part of a pilot study prior to their arrival at the UTK. Two versions of the Subjective Social Status (SSS) scale were used to assess incoming freshmen’s perceptions of social standing in their high school environment and in a larger societal context. The Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) was used to assess stress. Diet was analyzed by assessing frequency of fruit intake, frequency of vegetable intake, snacking frequency, and frequency of fast food intake for the month prior to the survey. Bivariate analyses were conducted to determine differences in mean SSS and PSS scores by sociodemographic categories and dietary behaviors. Correlations between SSS and PSS were assessed using either Pearson’s correlations or Spearman’s rank. Lastly, diet variables were dichotomized and logistic regression analysis was used to determine the prospective risk of PSS and SSS on dietary behaviors. School SSS was found to have a strong bimodal distribution. PSS was not significantly correlated with either SSS indicator. However, societal and school SSS were highly correlated. In the final, fully adjusted logistic regression model, lower school SSS was associated with increased odds of meeting fruit and vegetable recommendations, lower society SSS was associated with a reduction in the odds of meeting fruit recommendations, and higher PSS was associated with an increase in the odds of increased snacking intake. Results from the present study suggest that incoming freshmen are in a transitional period in their lives and are assessing their social status differently, depending on their maturity. In addition, stress does not appear to share a relationship with SSS, and only influences select unhealthy dietary behaviors. More research must be conducted in this area to determine where the shifts in perceptions of status occur for this population, and to determine the impact of SSS and PSS on other dietary behaviors known to influence health.

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