Studying nutrition could influence weight gain in female students

Female studying

This month's Paper of the Month is from the Journal of Nutritional Science and is entitled ‘Majoring in nutrition influences BMI of female college students'. Authors Mee Young Hong, Tahirih L. Shepanski and Jaclyn B. Gaylis discuss their findings and implications for nutrition education for long term weight management of college students.

Maintaining healthy eating habits during college is challenging for most young adults. Studies have shown that college students gain an average of 3-10 lbs during their freshman year which makes it harder to maintain a healthy weight throughout adulthood. This weight-gain may be associated with a lack of variety in food choices, low fruit and vegetable intake, a diet high in refined carbohydrates, fat, soda and fast foods, as well as lower physical activity levels. Nutrition education during college is most important in order to educate college students on how to make healthy dietary and lifestyle choices which may impact their overall health and well-being. Nutrition majors not only have a strong foundation of knowledge on nutrition, food choices and diseases, but additionally on food preparation and exercise physiology.
It is often assumed that nutrition majors have healthier dietary behaviors and lifestyles. However, the effectiveness of college nutrition courses on the habits of nutrition majors in correlation with student’s Body Mass Index (BMI), food habits, snack choices and exercise patterns have not been well investigated. A questionnaire based cross-sectional survey study was conducted to compare the dietary behavior and food choices of female college nutrition majors or other major students and their relationship with BMI.

Main results of the study
Nutrition majors exhibited a lower BMI than other majors; yet, the BMIs for both groups were within a healthy range (18.5-24.9). Interestingly, 3% of nutrition majors had a BMI in the range of overweight or obese (≥25), where it was three times higher (9.2%) for the other major students. A healthier meal option is the most influential factor in nutrition major’s meal choices (69%), whereas convenience and weight control are the most influential factors in other major’s meal choices (50%). Most nutrition majors (99%) read nutrition labels and report that this significantly affects their food choices. Also, nutrition label readers had a lower BMI compared to non-readers. Those with a higher BMI also exhibited a lower adherence rate in following the guidelines of eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in fat. Students with a high BMI recorded low salad consumption and high soda consumption. Interestingly, no difference was found on exercise frequency and duration between nutrition and other major students. Ultimately, more regular meal patterns, healthier snack choices and adherence to dietary guidelines may contribute to the lower BMI values observed among nutrition major students compared to other major students.

Implications of the findings
University-level nutrition education is strongly associated with healthier eating habits and superior food choices among young adult females. Nutrition major student’s positive influence on campus for promoting these benefits may create a significant impact on those outside of their own major. As lower BMI is associated with decreased risk for chronic disease, our results add credence to the importance of health education for improving the lifelong health of college students.
Read the full paper here

Photo with thanks to Duke TIP, Flickr, reproduced under a CC license.