Obesity, Diet, and Physical Activity Behaviors of Students in Health-Related Professions

By Ferrara, Cynthia M.; Nobrega, Cheryl et al. | College Student Journal, September 2013 | Go to article overview

Obesity, Diet, and Physical Activity Behaviors of Students in Health-Related Professions


Ferrara, Cynthia M., Nobrega, Cheryl, Dulfan, Faina, College Student Journal


Few studies have examined incidence of obesity and healthy lifestyle behaviors in college students in health-related (HM) compared to other majors (NH). Since individuals are more likely to follow health promotion advice if the health care professional lives a healthy lifestyle, this information may be important in determining compliance of clients and patients. We hypothesized that the students in HM majors would be less likely to be overweight or obese, would be more physically active, and would be more likely to eat the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables than students in other majors. Ninety-six students completed body composition testing and a survey containing questions on diet and physical activity. There was a trend for NH to be overweight or obese compared to HM (38% vs. 21%, p=0.07). There was no difference in the percentage of HM and NH who participated in moderate aerobic exercise five or more days per week, but HM ate more servings of fruits and vegetables (3.8 [+ or -] 0.3 vs. 3.0 [+ or -] 0.3 per day) and were more likely to eat five or more servings daily (34% vs. 14%). These results emphasize the importance of health promotion education on campuses.

Keywords: college students, physical activity, healthy lifestyle

Introduction

Recent evidence suggests that 30-35% of college students are overweight or obese, primarily as a result of physical inactivity and poor nutritional choices (Huang et al., 2003; Racette, Deusinger, Strube, Highstein & Deusinger, 2005; Lowry, Galuska, Fulton & Wechsler, 2000). While a number of studies have examined the incidence of obesity, physical activity and dietary behaviors in college students in health-related majors (Baloguin, 1987; Huddleston, Mertesdorf & Araki, 2002; Konen & Fromm, 1992; Najem, Passannante & Foster, 1995; Peterson, Degenhardt & Smith, 2003), few studies have compared students in these majors to students in other majors (Coe, Miller, Wolff, Prendergast & Pepper, 1982; Irazusta et al., 2006). Irazusta et al. (2006) compared body composition, physical activity, and dietary habits of female nursing students to female students in other majors. Although no differences were observed in body composition or nutritional intake, maximal exercise capacity was significantly lower in the nursing students compared to the other students. In addition, nursing students reported less participation in daily exercise compared to the other students, although this difference was not statistically significant. These results conflict with those of Coe et al. (1982), who observed no difference in physical activity patterns between medical and law students. It is important to determine if students in health professions maintain healthy behaviors, including regular physical activity and healthy eating, since patients are more likely to follow health promotion advice if the health care professional lives a healthy lifestyle (Abramson, Stain, Schaufele, Frates & Rogan, 2000; Crawford et al., 2004; Frank, Breyan & Elon, 2000; Hash, Munna, Vogel & Bason, 2003). The purpose of this study was to examine behaviors related to a healthy life-style in students in health-related compared to those in other majors. We hypothesized that the students in health-related majors would be less likely to be overweight or obese, would be more physically active, and would be more likely to eat the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables than students in other majors.

Methods

Ninety-six undergraduates (61 women and 35 men) volunteered to participate in the study. Prior to reporting for testing, participants were instructed to not drink excessive alcohol, exercise, or carry out any form of heavy physical activity for 24 hours before the test date. They were also instructed to not eat a heavy meal for five hours before the test appointment, and not smoke or drink any caffeinated drinks for one hour before the test appointment. …

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