Young Adults’ Perceptions of Calcium Intake and Health

A Qualitative Study

Michelle L. Marcinow, PhD, Janis A. Randall Simpson, PhD, RD, Susan J. Whiting, PhD, Mary E. Jung, PhD, Andrea C. Buchholz, PhD, RD

Many young Canadian adults are not meeting dietary calcium recommendations. This is concerning as adequate calcium is important throughout young adulthood to maximize peak bone mass for osteoporosis prevention. There are limited studies that have explored young adults’ perceptions toward calcium and health. Our objectives were to determine young adults’ (18-34 years) knowledge of calcium in relation to health, facilitators and barriers to adequate calcium intake, and to explore both their suggestions for individual strategies to increase calcium intake and ways to communicate calcium-related messaging to this population. Eight gender-specific focus groups (18 men; 35 women) were conducted using a semistructured interview guide, guided by social cognitive theory. Deductive thematic analysis was used to generate themes. Participants perceived adequate calcium intake to be important for children and older adults but were uncertain of the benefits for their own age group. Perceived positive outcomes (e.g., aesthetics such as strong nails) associated with adequate calcium intake were cited as a motivator to increase intake. Perceived barriers to achieving increased calcium intake included the high cost and inconvenience of milk products and negative practices of dairy farmers. Participants suggested planning healthy well-balanced meals and forming a habit of consuming calcium-rich foods as individual strategies to increase calcium intake. Strategies to convey calcium-related information to young adults included increasing awareness of the importance of calcium via credible sources of information and developing nutrition education curricula. Social media and advertising were perceived as ineffective. Our findings provide key information for nutrition education initiatives.

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