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The dietary and physical activity habits of university students on health and non-health related courses

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An increase in the prevalence of obesity has been observed throughout the world (WHO 2010), which is thought to be due to many factors including psychological, physiological and environmental influences which are demonstrated in the obesity system map (Butland et al., 2007). University students may be susceptible to weight gain, with evidence suggesting a decline in physical activity (PA) and adherence to poor dietary habits during university life (Hoffman et al., 2006). It has not been determined whether university students of differing courses adhere to different dietary and PA habits. The aim of this study was to investigate the dietary and PA habits of students on health related courses (HRC) versus those on non-health related courses (NHRC). Methods: 

Non-probability convenience sampling was used to recruit university students. The study comprised of a 30 min structured interview, which assessed dietary and PA habits. Dietary habits were assessed through a current diet history for whilst studying at university, which was documented and validated in a sub sample of the population (n =25) through a 7-day weighed food diary. Anthropometric variables including weight, height, and waist circumference were measured by the interviewer before proceeding with the interview questions. Energy and macronutrient intakes were analysed using Dietplan-6 dietary analysis software program (Forestfield Software, Horsham, UK). Fruit and vegetable (FV) intakes were assessed by portions according to UK recommendations (DH 2010). All variables were found to be normally distributed and so independent T-tests were used using SPSS (v.17.0.2). Significance was accepted at P < 0.05. Ethics approval was obtained from the Coventry University Ethics committee. Results: 

One hundred and thirty-nine students (HRC n =81; NHRC n =58) participated in the study (males n =56, females n = 83; average age = 24 ± 7 years). Individuals on HRC reported a higher FV intake than NHRC students (4.3 ± 1.5 versus 3.2 ± 1.8 portions per day; P <0.001) and a lower waist circumference was observed in HRC students (76.4 ± 8.8 cm), compared with NHRC students (83.2 ± 9.5 cm; P <0.001). However, no significant differences were found in energy intake from macronutrients: protein (P =0.787), carbohydrate (P =0.657), fat (P =0.458), total fat (P =0.298), saturated fat (P =0.383), sugars (P =0.285), and PA (P =0.404). Discussion: 

HRC students had a significantly higher intake of FV, and a significantly lower waist circumference compared to NHRC students. This is likely to be attributed to their enrolment on HRC, which potentially promotes a greater exposure to the awareness on the impact of healthy behaviours through teaching activities and clinical placements (Swift et al., 2007). No significant differences were found in other dietary and PA habits between HRC and NHRC students, which are contrary to previous studies conducted in differing countries (Irazusta et al., 2006). Irazusta et al. (2006) found that the level of PA among first-year female nursing students was lower than that of other first-year female students. The contradictory results may be due to inadequate sampling. This could have led to NHRC students who have an underlying interest in health taking part. Conclusion: 

HRC students consumed more FV and presented lower waist circumferences than NHRC students. No other differences in dietary and PA habits were observed. This study suggests that it may be beneficial to target some nutritional messages such as increasing FV intake, at those on NHRCs. Larger randomised studies of this population will be needed to confirm these conclusions. References: 

Butland, B., Jebb, S., Kopelman, P., McPherson, K., Thomas, S., Mardell, J. & Parry, V. (2007) Foresight Tackling Obesities: Future Choices Project Report, 2nd edn.Government Office for Science, Department of Innovation Universities and Skills.

Department of Health (2010) Available at [Accessed on 19 September 2010].

Hoffman, D., Policastro, P., Quick, V. & Lee, S. (2006) Changes in body weight and fat mass of men and women in the first year of college. J. Am. Coll. Health 55, 45–45.

Irazusta, A., Gil, S., Ruiz, F., Gondra, J., Jauregi, A., Irazusta, J. & Gil, J. (2006) Exercise, Physical fitness, and dietary habits of first-year female nursing students. Biol. Res. Nurs.7, 175–186.

Swift, J.A., Sheard, C. & Rutherford, M. (2007) Trainee health care professionals’ knowledge of the health risks associated with obesity. J. Hum. Nutr. Diet.20, 599–604.

World Health Organisation. (2010) Obesity Available at [Accessed on 10 September 2010].
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-06-01

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