Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Exploring Young People’s Understandings of Health and Healthy Lifestyles: A Qualitative Investigation

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posted on 2024-04-17, 07:46 authored by Grace Cam

Mainstream understandings of health in New Zealand have primarily revolved around Westernised white, middle-class viewpoints, emphasising individuality and personal accountability for health outcomes. This thesis explores how young people understand and talk about health and healthy lifestyles in a healthist society. The study holds importance given the limited research conducted on the health experiences of young people in New Zealand, highlighting the need for a more comprehensive understanding to enhance healthcare and overall well-being. This research utilises critical realism as its theoretical framework to recognise the dynamic relationship between empirical reality, social structures, and the fundamental mechanisms that shape social reality. Thematic analysis (TA) is employed as the analytical method. Data is drawn from one section of a large qualitative research project and consists of semi-structured interviews with 25 young Aucklanders between the ages of 16 and 20 as participants. Key findings suggest that young people understand health as a matter of dietary habits, exercise routines, and sleep practices, which are also closely tied to physical attractiveness and thinness. The study also highlights the contradictory ways participants talked about where responsibility for health lies: individual autonomy, on the one hand, and the significance of social assistance, on the other. The study delves into the intricate relationship between choices regarding health, societal standards, and different facets of overall wellness in the early stages of adulthood. Overall, the results point to the continuing power of healthism and suggest an ongoing need to eliminate obstacles, question societal conventions, and address socioeconomic disparities to support health behaviours and healthy lifestyles and to enable young adults to take charge of their health and lead more balanced lives.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

CC BY-SA 4.0

Degree Discipline

Health Psychology

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Health Psychology

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

280112 Expanding knowledge in the health sciences; 280121 Expanding knowledge in psychology

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Health


Calder-Dawe, Octavia