Racial and Gender Differences in Weight Status and Dietary Practices among College Students

By DeBate, Rita DiGioacchino; Topping, Marvette et al. | Adolescence, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Racial and Gender Differences in Weight Status and Dietary Practices among College Students


DeBate, Rita DiGioacchino, Topping, Marvette, Sargent, Roger G., Adolescence


Research indicates that postsecondary students do not engage in healthful dietary practices (Dinger & Waigandt, 1997; Hampl & Betts, 1995; Haberman & Luffey, 1998; Tavelli, Beerman, Schultz, & Heiss, 1998; Johnson, Solomon, & Core, 1998; Brevard & Ricketts, 1996; Schuette, Song, & Hoerr, 1996; Huang, Song, Schemmel, & Hoerr, 1994; Cotugna & Vickery, 1994; Lawrence & Schank, 1993; Horwath, 1991). Many college students consume inadequate servings of the foods recommended in the Food Guide Pyramid (Dinger & Waigandt, 1997; Haberman & Luffey, 1998; Tavelli et al., 1998; Johnson et al., 1998; Brevard & Ricketts, 1996; Schuette et al., 1996). Additionally, the 1995 National College Health Risk Behavior Survey found that 74% of college students did not eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day, 22% had eaten three or more high-fat foods, and only 30% reported receiving information from their college or university on nutrition and dietary practices that cause disease (Centers for Disease Control, 19 97). Further, an annual survey of college freshman found decreased levels of physical and psychological health among respondents (Hampl & Betts, 1995).

Among the college and university population, approximately 57% (7.1 million) are from 18 to 24 years of age (Centers for Disease Control, 1997). These transitional years provide an opportunity for the establishment of healthful lifestyle behaviors (Dinger & Waigandt, 1997). However, data from the 1995 College Health Risk Behavior Survey indicate that many college students engage in lifestyle behaviors that place them at risk for developing serious health problems (Centers for Disease Control, 1997).

According to Healthy People (HP) 2010, dietary intake plays a key role in four out of the ten leading causes of death in the United States in addition to contributing to a variety of health problems such as obesity, hypertension, and osteoporosis (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). Subsequently, HP 2010 has added the following objective pertaining to postsecondary institutions: "Increase the proportion of college and university students who receive information from their institution on each of the six priority health risk behavior areas (behaviors that cause unintentional and intentional injuries, tobacco use, alcohol and illicit drug use, sexual behaviors that cause unintended pregnancies and STDs, dietary patterns that cause disease, and inadequate physical activity)." Data reported in HP 2010 state that in 1995, only 30% of college students reported receiving information on unhealthful dietary practices and 36% on adequate physical activity (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2 000). Further, only 8% of the African-American college population reported receiving this information (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000).

The Food Guide Pyramid (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Human Nutrition Information Service, 1992), Dietary Guidelines for Americans (U.S. Department of Agriculture & U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1990), and the federally mandated new food labels have been developed as tools for providing recommendations and information for healthful eating. Although presently young adults have been the first generation to grow up under these guidelines, many continue to have poor diets which are particularly lacking in fruits and vegetables (Munoz, Krebs-Smith, Ballard-Barbash, & Cleveland, 1997).

The failure of college students to eat healthful diets could be due to frequent meal skipping (Sax, 1997; Hertzler & Frary, 1989; Cusatis & Shannon, 1996), inadequate variety of foods (Schuette et al., 1996; Huang & Song, 1994), frequent consumption of fast foods (Task Force on National Health Objectives in Higher Education, 1991), lack of awareness and understanding of the food recommendations and guidelines (Cotugna & Vickery, 1994), and decreased self-efficacy in making healthful food choices (Cusatis & Shannon, 1996). …

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