Unobserved mental health profiles are associated with weight and physical activity change in female college freshmen: A latent profile analysis

Emily L. Mailey, Sean P. Mullen, Mina C. Mojtahedi, Dolores D. Guest, Ellen M. Evans, Robert W. Motl, Edward McAuley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Statement of problem: Weight gain is common during the first year of college, and interventions to attenuate weight gain have had mixed success. The purpose of the present study was to examine the effectiveness of a peer-delivered weight management intervention and to determine whether changes in weight and physical activity could be explained by unobserved subgroups constructed based on mental health changes. Method: Female participants (N = 246) were randomly assigned to an intervention or control group and completed all measures during the first and last month of the school year. The self-efficacy based intervention was delivered by trained peer educators, and the course curriculum was focused on enhancing physical activity and dietary behaviors to prevent weight gain. Results: Initial analyses revealed no significant intervention effects on weight or physical activity. A latent profile analysis yielded two classes with different psychosocial profiles. Class 1 (Negative Mental Health Profile) displayed substantial declines in self-esteem and QOL and large increases in anxiety. Class 2 (Positive Mental Health Profile) exhibited moderate improvements in self-esteem and QOL and modest declines in anxiety. The two classes could be differentiated based on changes in weight and physical activity, with Class 1 demonstrating decreased physical activity and increased weight across the school year, whereas these changes were attenuated in Class 2. Conclusions: These findings highlight the importance of conducting analyses that may identify subgroups of individuals who change differentially. Such analyses may inform future studies by allowing researchers to identify "at-risk" individuals early and provide targeted interventions to attenuate declines in mental health and physical activity and enhance weight management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-84
Number of pages9
JournalMental Health and Physical Activity
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • Freshmen
  • Latent profile analysis
  • Physical activity
  • Self-esteem
  • Weight gain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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