This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Links between Body Image and Internalizing Behaviors Among College-Age Youth: Similarities or Differences by Sex, Level of Acculturation, and Racial/ethnic groups and Who’s “Doing” What?: An Investigation of Regional Trends in Sexual Activity and Risky Sexual Behaviors Among College-Age Youth




Kahumoku-Fessler, Emily

Type of Degree



Human Development and Family Studies


The current studies were conducted based on data from the Multi-Site University Study of Identity and Culture (MUSIC) (Schwartz et al., 2010), a collaborative effort that began in 2006 and now has collected data on three cohorts of college-attending young adults. Data were collected from students at thirty colleges and universities around the United States so as to provide a more diverse sample than would have been available at any one site. Sites were selected so as to provide diversity in terms of geographic location, setting (urban, suburban, or college town), and type of institution. The first study involved individual’s ratings of their current and ideal bodies and the extent to which these ratings impact individual’s internalizing behaviors (depression, anxiety, self-esteem) by sex, level of acculturation, and across racial ethnic groups. Findings indicate mean level differences of ideal bodies (both personal and cultural) across sexes, racial/ethnic groups and levels of acculturation. Furthermore, path models indicated significant associations where college students’ deviations from ideal bodies predicted depression (up to 7% of the variance), anxiety (up to 4%), self-esteem (about 1%), and body image (up to 12%). However, multi-group tests provided evidence of metric invariance in these associations by sex, level of acculturation, and across racial/ethnic groups. This fining supports the idea that the relationships between ideal body discrepancies and internalizing behaviors are largely invariant across these groups, independent of personal or cultural figure ideals. The second study examined male and female students’ sexual lives across regions in the US in terms of their sexual activity, risky sexual behaviors, and engagement in oral or vaginal intercourse after drinking alcohol in four different situations common across college campuses. Empirical samples of college students are generally limited to one or a few locations; thus, previous empirical work has been unable address questions regarding regionally specific sexual behaviors or whether there exist similarities or differences. Hypotheses regarding regional differences were developed based on previous research that found differences in sexuality across the US (Santelli et al., 2006; Center for Disease Control, 2006; Guttmacher Institute, 2011; Ellingson et al., 2004) and using the Sexual Health Report Card (Trojan® Sexual Health Report Card, 2008). Findings indicated mean-level regional differences in typical sexual behaviors (engaging in oral, vaginal or anal intercourse), risky sexual behaviors (casual sex, sex with more than 4 partners, sex under the influence, and sex without a condom), and both oral sex as well as sexual intercourse after drinking alcohol among college students. In addition, findings from logistic regression analyses revealed that college students’ sexual behaviors were significantly associated with regional variables, but unrelated to sex (gender) and mostly unrelated to racial/ethnic group membership. Context and regional norms regarding the extent to which sexuality is socialized among youth underscore the importance of the observed regional differences and how these differences manifest themselves in college students’ sexual behaviors across the US.