Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Using a Teaching Partnership to Improve Nutrition and Exercise in College Students

Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Using a Teaching Partnership to Improve Nutrition and Exercise in College Students

Article excerpt


Developing sustainable obesity prevention strategies is a primary focus for researchers, including those in the college setting. To improve nutrition and exercise beliefs and behaviors among college students a one-semester nutrition and exercise course was created and implemented using an undergraduate faculty-Peer Educator teaching model. The first eight-week session focused on undergraduate Peer Educator training and development of curriculum for the nutrition and exercise course. Six Peer Educators were recruited from undergraduate dietetics and kinesiology classes. A teaching training program was developed based on the WHO: Training of Trainers Manual. Peer Educators provided feedback on topics and course content. During the second eight-week session, Peer Educators (n=6) led weekly discussions with the class (n=39) and faculty (n=2) conducted lectures. At the conclusion of the 8-week class, students reported improved self-efficacy for resisting eating under pressure from others and when physically run down. Students' outcome expectations and intake related to vegetables and fruits improved. Self-reported weekly strenuous and moderate exercise also improved. Despite a small class sample, our results demonstrated that using a peer education model in a class setting can improve some beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors towards healthy eating and exercise.


The challenges presented by obesity and being overweight on college campuses are being recognized as important issues by Student Affairs units in the United States. The National College Health Risk Behavior Survey revealed that 30% of college students are overweight or obese and only 7% consume the recommended servings for fruits and vegetables (Lowry, et al., 2000; Hoban, 2006). Additionally, prevalence of obesity increased from 10.9% to 22.1% during the five-year transitional phase between adolescence and adulthood (Gordon-Larsen et al., 2004). These results suggest that transition between adolescence and adulthood, a common age for college students, is frequently accompanied by rapid and inappropriate weight gain.

Indeed, according to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, young adults aged 18 to 29 years are the fastest growing sector in the overweight/obese category (Mokdad et al., 1999). There is a general assumption that college students gain weight during their freshman year, a phenomenon that has been called the "freshman fifteen." However, there are only a handful of studies that have actually documented this, with most suggesting gains of four to nine pounds (Levitsky et al., 2004; Racette et al., 2005). While studies have found that the actual weight gain is less than 15 pounds, overweight during late adolescence is most strongly associated with increased risk for overweight in adulthood (Guo et al., 2000; Holm-Denomaet al., 2008).

Interventions that combine healthy diet and exercise behavior modifications that could be maintained throughout the lifespan are recommended for the long-term treatment and prevention of obesity in adults (Centers for Disease Control, 1997; National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, 1998). Successful interventions in the past have used self-efficacybased initiatives to improve dietary and exercise habits in the young adult population (Abood et al., 2004; Dishman et al., 2004). Since self-efficacy can be influenced by others, peer education has been used successfully to improve health-related behaviors in smoking cessation (Wechsler et al., 2001) and HIV prevention (Fisher et al., 1996). Peer Educators (PEs) have also been previously used in the college setting to provide nutrition (White et al., 2009) and physical activity education (Khan et al., 2009), as well as supplemental instruction or tutoring in large classrooms (Amstutz et al., 2010) . However, previous studies involving PEs have utilized them for only the implementation phases and no research trials have utilized a PE/faculty collaborative approach to address nutrition and exercise concerns in the classroom setting. …

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