Goal-oriented activities encourage better food choices for college students

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A new study found when a college nutrition course implemented weekly food challenges, students made better food choices and had increased confidence in the kitchen.

The study was published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, and led by Carol O’Neal, PhD, of the department of Health and Sports Science at University of Louisville, in Louisville, Ky. According to the study, the diets of college students are generally high in overall fat intake and lack in nutrient dense foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

“Barriers to healthy eating for this group include a lack of nutrition and culinary knowledge, financial instability, inadequate access to healthy food options, and time,” said O’Neal in a statement.

Previous studies suggest that while nutrition classes increase nutrition knowledge, they don’t change dietary behavior. For this study, O’Neal and her colleagues set up a 15-week intervention which incorporated food challenges and instructional cooking videos. The course itself encouraged changes in cooking attitudes, cooking and nutrition self-efficacy, and fruit and vegetable consumption.

“Nutrition education programs grounded in social cognitive theory are particularly effective in changing dietary behavior because of their focus on self-efficacy and behavior-oriented programmatic elements,” O’Neal said.

After analyzing student surveys taken before and after the course, the study’s researchers found the intervention was associated with increased confidence in using fruits and vegetables while cooking as well as increased consumption of them. Student attitudes around cooking were positive throughout the study.

“The study's outcome, which incorporated both in-person and online learning, demonstrates the ability to successfully connect with students attending an online course and has important implications for nutrition educators,” said O’Neal.