Eating Habits and Dietary Intake: Is Adherence to Dietary Guidelines Associated with Importance of Healthy Eating among Undergraduate University Students in Finland?

By El Ansari, Walid; Suominen, Sakari et al. | Central European Journal of Public Health, December 2015 | Go to article overview

Eating Habits and Dietary Intake: Is Adherence to Dietary Guidelines Associated with Importance of Healthy Eating among Undergraduate University Students in Finland?


El Ansari, Walid, Suominen, Sakari, Samara, Anastasia, Central European Journal of Public Health


INTRODUCTION

With the transition from secondary school to university, as independency increases, students are constantly challenged to make healthy food selections (1). Such transition into young adulthood is frequently a period of unhealthy lifestyle where young people could assume long-lasting health behaviour habits (2, 3). In particular, college students are exposed to unhealthy eating habits leading to body weight gain, and make their independent food choices, sometimes based on cost of food and availability of fast food (4).

University populations are vulnerable in their eating habits for various reasons. Students might be deficient in their knowledge of healthy food selections that could negatively influence their eating habits (4). Financial aspects might also play a role, as fats and sweets cost less, whereas many healthier foods cost more (5), and increased financial concerns are associated with worse health (6). Students also face academic responsibilities that may generate stress and lead to changes in eating habits (7). In addition, students'eating behaviour could be affected by university characteristics, e.g. student societies, university lifestyle and exams (1), and by the college nutrition environment and its contribution to adoption of healthy/unhealthy eating habits (8). Students can buy food during lecture breaks and usually eat at the university refectory where fruits might not be readily available and food choices are limited (9). Students' accommodation/changes in living arrangements that some students encounter also influence their food choices where dietary intakes might feature unfavourable practices, especially for those not living with parents or those who move to another county or country to attend university (10). For instance, Greek students faced difficulties in maintaining a traditional Mediterranean diet after leaving the family home and moving to Northern Europe (10), and the same was reported for Portuguese university students (11). Nonetheless, universities provide appropriate opportunities/environment to reach many young adults through nutrition education efforts to positively influence their dietary intakes and encourage them to embrace healthy food choices.

The food consumption habits and dietary intakes of university students across the globe seem to be characterized by unhealthy choices. In Saudi Arabia, only 17.2% of the female university students surveyed consumed fruit and vegetable daily (2), and likewise, among female nursing students, only 30% ate fruit and vegetable daily (12). In Spain, a low percentage of undergraduate students adhered to the new Nutritional Pyramid of the Spanish Nutrition Society recommendations for pasta, bread and cereals, vegetables, fruits, and legumes (13), and among a university population 75.5% of future teachers needed improved adherence to the Mediterranean diet (14). Likewise, 90% of Galician university students needed to modify their eating habits to conform to a heart-healthy diet (15), and in Poland, calcium intakes of female students were inadequately low (16). In agreement, in Malaysia, university students had unhealthy eating behaviour and inadequate nutrient intakes (4), and in Chile, university students had low/ average adherence to the Mediterranean diet (17). Indeed, in the USA, > 30% of college students were overweight or obese despite evidence that uphold the association between diet features and health either as risk factors or as providers of beneficial/protective effects in relation to a range of chronic conditions (18).

Nutritional knowledge alone seems useful but not sufficient for appropriate dietary adherence. On the one hand, adherence to dietary recommendations among Croatian university students was significantly associated with nutrition knowledge scores (19). In contrast, in Hong Kong, whilst most university students knew that fruits are part of a healthy diet, > 60% failed to eat fruit daily (9). …

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