2010-2011 Undergraduate Research in Nutrition and Food Science
The obesity epidemic in the United States demands immediate attention. Obesity and weight gain rates are particularly high for young adults and college students, with 36.7% being overweight or obese. If students are better educated on dietary choices, physical activity, and risks of chronic disease, it is likely they will engage in a healthier lifestyle. The relationship between students' nutrition knowledge and their body mass index (BMI) was investigated in 200 undergraduate students at the University of Kentucky. The participants included 100 Human Nutrition and Dietetics students (age 21.8 ± 4.4 years) and 100 students of other majors (age 20.6 ± 2.7 years). The students completed surveys regarding their current health status, level of nutrition education, nutrition knowledge, and diet and exercise behaviors. The average BMI was 22.8 ± 3.7 kg/m2 for Human Nutrition/Dietetics students and 23.5 ± 3.2 kg/m2 for students of other majors (p=0.12). Human Nutrition and Dietetics students had completed an average of 5 to 6 more health/nutrition classes than the other students. Students with more nutrition education consumed more vegetables (2-3 servings/day) and engaged in more physical activity (>30 minutes/day for 3-4 days/week) compared to students with little nutrition education (consumed 1-2 servings/day and engaged in >30 minutes for 2-3 days/week). It was found that students with more nutrition education had a healthier BMI, make better dietary choices, and engage in more physical activity. While students who were better educated in nutrition did have a lower BMI than students less-educated in the subject, the difference between the groups was not statistically significant. Based on this research, it was concluded that nutrition education improves the dietary and exercise behaviors of college students, and may decrease obesity rates among young adults.