Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2012

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Health and Sport Studies

First Advisor

Johnson, Christina R

Second Advisor

Janz, Kathleen F

First Committee Member

Birrell, Susan J

Second Committee Member

Nothwehr, Faryle K

Third Committee Member

Trachsel, Mary C


The purpose of this study was to develop a theory grounded in the health experiences of rural adolescents. By exploring the embodied experiences within a unique population of rural Iowan adolescents, many who are overweight/obese and/or of Hispanic descent, the developed theory was also used to inform a tailored health intervention for middle school students. The review of the literature revealed that the study of adolescent physical activity and body image concerns is largely measurement driven, and often explored from a deficit perspective. Thus, there remains a gap in the literature regarding the contextualized experience of health. This project used a qualitative approach to generate a theory grounded in stories adolescents shared regarding their health.

Eighteen adolescents (13-15 years old) participated in one-on-one interviews. Grounded theory principles were used to understand how personal health experiences were socially constructed and explored the meanings participants derived from such experiences. An unstructured interview guide was used to gather information on health, physical activity, nutrition, and body image. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using Charmaz's (2006) version of grounded theory. A total of 28 codes emerged from the data to construct the Theory of Embodied Health and Wellness. The complex interplay of personal health behaviors, eco-sociocultural influence, and everyday experience mold adolescents' embodied health and wellness experiences. Participants reported a wide range of personal, social, cultural and environmental influences on their health experiences. Feeling in control, connected, and competent were major themes in how participants experienced, maintained, or challenged their health experiences within their sociocultural environment. In addition to constructing the Theory of Embodied Health and Wellness, this project engaged adolescents in conversations related to their own health experiences to develop a sociocultural tailored health intervention. This project provides a practical example of how the target population of an intervention can be included during the formative research phase to ensure the intervention is tailored to meet their needs and interests.


Adolescent, Body Image, Health, Physical Activity, Qualitative


xi, 197 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 182-197).


Copyright 2012 Joanna Lynn Morrissey