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The impact of health and fitness social media on physical activity and body image in adolescents

Around 50% of young people engage with health and fitness content on social media (Crane et al., 2015). Young people’s engagement with health-related social media has been shown to impact their health-related knowledge and behaviours, such as physical activity, diet and mental health (Goodyear and Quennerstedt, 2019). Health and fitness related social media often positions physical attractiveness as the ultimate goal of exercise (Deighton-Smith, 2016) and focuses on the achievement of an external goal e.g. the attainment of a physical ideal. Furthermore, images also focus on guilt to regulate physical activity behaviours (Deighton-Smith, 2016). However, relatively little is known about differences in adolescents’ appraisals across different social media platforms and the subsequent implications for physical activity motivation and body image.

Using self-determination theory as a guiding framework, this study will explore young people’s use of health and fitness related social media across a range of different platforms (e.g. Instgarm, Youtube and TikTok). The aim of this study is to explore how different social media platforms impact physical activity motivation, behaviours and body image. Furthermore, the study aims to explore how young people engage with different social media platforms to create understandings of their health, body image, physical activity and fitness. This study will be a mixed method design, utilising both quantitative and qualitative methodologies.

Applicants interested in pursuing the project would ideally have backgrounds in sport health and exercise sciences, social psychology, exercise psychology, physical education or any other related subject.

How to apply

If you are interested in applying for the above PhD topic please follow the steps below:

  1. Contact the supervisor by email or phone to discuss your interest and find out if you woold be suitable. Supervisor details can be found on this topic page. The supervisor will guide you in developing the topic-specific research proposal, which will form part of your application.
  2. Click on the 'Apply here' button on this page and you will be taken to the relevant PhD course page, where you can apply using an online application.
  3. Complete the online application indicating your selected supervisor and include the research proposal for the topic you have selected.

Good luck!

This is a self funded topic

Brunel offers a number of funding options to research students that help cover the cost of their tuition fees, contribute to living expenses or both. See more information here: https://www.brunel.ac.uk/research/Research-degrees/Research-degree-funding. The UK Government is also offering Doctoral Student Loans for eligible students, and there is some funding available through the Research Councils. Many of our international students benefit from funding provided by their governments or employers. Brunel alumni enjoy tuition fee discounts of 15%.

Meet the Supervisor(s)

Charlotte Kerner - Dr Charlotte Kerner is a Senior Lecturer in Sport Health and Exercise Sciences (Youth Sport and Physical Education). Her research focuses on the role of physical education in encouraging and promoting physical activity and well-being throughout the lifespan. Dr Kerner is specifically interested in how learning environments can be structured to facilitate physical activity motivation and support the development of a positive body image in children and adolescents. She is also interested in the role of technology in this process. Her work focuses on applying social psychological theory to explore these issues.