A nutritious diet is not seen as being as important as physical activity when it comes to college students’ health and wellness efforts, according to Indiana University researchers, even when the students live in an environment that provides classes, cues and motivation to eat healthily. “Personal preferences triumph over discipline,” the researchers note. The researchers examined the eating habits of college students as they transitioned from high school to university life and to living in residence halls or apartments. Habits that college students establish as they leave home may have long-reaching effects on their health and that of their future families, the researchers note. The students, they say, bring to college the eating habits established at home, where most skipped breakfast and almost 40 percent ate out for dinner or were on their own. This “grab and go” view of food and a preference for restaurant-style foods was apparent in the study. Researchers found that regardless of the variety available in the residence hall or the need to prepare meals in apartment living, foods that can require more preparation or are more perishable are eaten less often. The researchers studied three groups of students — students in apartments, students living in a residence hall and students living in a Fitness and Wellness Living-Learning Center, a themed residential community that provides students with an onsite fitness facility and educational material — including a required course on healthy living. Students in all three groups achieved similar levels of physical activity, with around 56 percent meeting the recommended three bouts of exercise weekly. Compared to how they ate at home, the students reported eating the same amount or less of the healthy foods examined. Students in the Living and Learning Center reported eating even less of these healthy foods. The findings suggest that school and college health educators should consider providing students with tools to “internalize that fitness = exercise = healthy food,” and to find ways for them to eat healthy in our grab-and-go world.
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