College Students' Perceptions of Fast Food Restaurant Menu Items on Health

Article excerpt

Background: Examining the beliefs about fast food and health, especially the consequences of fast food intake (FFI) on health, among college students will be a crucial factor in turning the tide on current morbidity and mortality statistics. Purpose: This article examines the results of a survey among Midwestern college-aged students about their fast food restaurant menu item selection and how they perceive that these choices are affecting their health as a means to direct university curriculum. Methods: Researchers used SurveyMonkey to disseminate a questionnaire to currently enrolled college students from 3 area tertiary educational institutions. The survey was analyzed using SPSS for mean, standard deviation, and chi-square. Results: Statistical differences were found between male (N= 110) and female (N = 389) college students in terms of number of fast food visits (P = 0.032), consumption of diet soda (P = 0.009), consumption of hamburgers (P = 0.000), and what is considered harmful FFI (P = 0.032; effect size for all results was very small, [[eta].sup.2] = 0.02). Discussion: This study indicates some gender differences between college students' fast food menu choices; that is, more males than females consume fast food, feel that hamburgers are not harmful, and consume less diet soda. Translation to Health Education Practice: The results indicate less fast food consumption among this population than hypothesized but supported previous research in terms of gender and FFI. Health educators may have successfully emphasized the deleterious consequences of fast food such that actual consumption is being underreported or this population has lower fast food consumption compared to other geographic locations. With the increasing emergence of televised cooking, health educators may want to fashion nutrition information around wholesome raw ingredients and organic methods to promote positive food choices among all age groups.

BACKGROUND

To address the health of our nation's citizens, this research begins by looking at those who are on the brink of becoming parents of the next generation. College students are presented with possibly the first opportunity to plan their own meals or decide on meal plans (1,2) from institutions of higher learning while simultaneously having increased social, financial, time, and educational demands placed upon them. (3) A multitude of factors may influence the ability of college students to make healthy food decisions; for example, their parents' diets prior to conception, (4-9) their diets as infants, (10,11) food allergies, (12,13) physical activity during childhood, (14,15) parental nutrition knowledge and parenting style, (1) family traditions, (16,17) economic issues, (18,19) level and quality of education, (18,20) peer influences, (21) body image/self-esteem, (22-24) as well as whether or not they were taught, understand, or intuit how closely food choices impact and determine their degree of health in the present and more importantly with aging. (25-27) Glaringly obvious to some and totally obscure to others, the type and quality of food consumed, attitudes and experiences while eating, and balance and moderation in food quantity may be among the most important elements toward reversing and rejuvenating a nation of obese, tired, grumpy, depressed, and/or sick citizens. (28)

According to Encyclopedia Britannica (online) the term fast food was first introduced in 1951 and refers to "1: relating to, or specializing in food that can be prepared and served quickly, at a restaurant, and 2: designed for ready availability, use, or consumption and with little consideration given to quality or significance. (29) (29) The definition of junk food could be applied to food items typically served at fast food restaurants; for example, soft drinks, french fries, and buns for hamburgers and hot dogs. First mentioned in 1960 and defined as food high in calories but with low nutritional content or as something that is appealing or enjoyable with little or no real value, (30) several fast food items could be subsumed within the category of junk food. …