Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


Acceptability, Feasibility, and Preliminary Efficacy of Emphasizing Peer Relationships in a Facebook-based Behavioral Weight Loss Intervention for College Students

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Abby Braden (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Stephen Demuth (Other)

Third Advisor

Dara Musher-Eizenman (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Catherine Stein (Committee Member)


Approximately 37% of college students are overweight or obese (American College Health Association, 2021), and as a result, may face adverse health consequences (Kopelman, 2007) and psychosocial consequences (Wyatt, Winters & Dubbert, 2006). Despite college students’ need and reported desire to lose weight to avoid the short and long-term consequences of obesity, standard behavioral weight loss treatments designed for adult populations have not proven to be as effective with a college student population (Plotnikoff et al., 2015). Some studies have explored ways to adapt the standard behavioral weight loss treatment (BWL) to college students and emerging adult populations, with some success (e.g., Gokee-Larose et al., 2019; Napolitano et al., 2013). The purpose of the current study was to replicate an adapted standard BWL treatment to a college student population and improve upon it by adding an emphasis on peer interaction with the aim of increasing social support and treatment engagement. As an early stage of treatment development, the current study aimed to assess the treatments’ feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary efficacy using a randomized-control format. Eighty college students were enrolled and randomized into one of three arms, waitlist control (n = 26), the replicated adapted BWL treatment, HEAT (n = 26), and the adapted BWL treatment with an emphasis on peer interaction, HEAT-PEER (n = 28). There were significant differences between the groups on all weight-related variables. The HEAT group appeared acceptable and somewhat efficacious with an average weight loss of 3.83 pounds, but it was not feasible, with only 46% of participants meeting intervention completion standards. The HEAT-PEER group also appeared to be acceptable, was more efficacious with an average weight loss of 9.10 pounds, and feasible, with 89% of participants meeting intervention completion standards. Secondary analyses on treatment engagement, peer interaction, and behavioral changes were also assessed. Results indicate that adding an emphasis on peer interaction to an adapted BWL treatment is feasible, acceptable, and preliminarily efficacious and may provide benefits beyond those found in previous research with a college student population.