How important is nutrition while at university?
Study reveals a student’s poor eating habits can lead to “a lifetime of illness”, with researchers suggesting universities should provide healthy, affordable food options.
A researcher at the University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus (UBCO) has cautioned that a person’s poor eating habits established during post-secondary studies can contribute to future health issues including obesity, respiratory illnesses and depression.
Dr Joan Bottorff, a Professor with UBCO’s School of Nursing, is one of the researchers that published a multi-site study that observed the easting habits of university students.
Around 12,000 medical students from 31 different universities in China participated in the study, with Dr Bottorff summarising the findings by stating: “The point is that many poor eating habits begin at university and can continue for decades.
“We know many students consume high-calorie meals along with sugary foods and drinks and there is lots of evidence to show those kinds of eating behaviours can lead to obesity. These are not the only habits that lead to obesity, but they are important and can’t be ruled out.”
The study was led by Dr Shihui Peng with the School of Medicine at China’s Jinan University and was published in Preventive Medicine Reports. The research aimed to show a relationship between poor eating habits and infectious diseases including colds and diarrhoea.
“Due to the nature of the study, it was not possible to show cause and effect but the relationship between poor eating habits, obesity and respiratory illnesses were well supported,” explained Dr Bottorff.
“A typical student diet of high-sugar or high-calorie foods can become a long-term issue as these habits can lead to obesity. There is evidence to show that stress and anxiety can cause overeating, but overeating can also lead to stress and depression.”
Dr Bottorff said that the risk pattern among young people at university shouldn’t be ignored. “It is well documented that a significant portion of students have unhealthy diets,” she adds. “The types of foods they are eating are linked to obesity. And this can lead to other health problems that are not just about chronic disease but also infectious diseases.”
While Dr Bottorff says students should be taught about healthy eating while at university the onus should be on the school to provide healthy, and affordable, food options for all students.
“We need to think about the food environment that we provide students. We need to ensure that in our cafeterias and vending machines, there are healthy food options so that they can eat on the go but also make healthy food choices,” concluded Dr Bottorff.