Harrogate, Tennessee—September 13, 2018— Nationwide, 63 percent of college students eat less than the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables per day, according to a survey by the American College Health Association. Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) researcher Vinayak K. Nahar, MD, PhD, served as co-investigator on a study to explore the key to getting college students to eat a healthier diet.
The findings, published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, show that a benefit-oriented approach to nutrition increases college students’ willingness to consume fruits and vegetables, yet the availability and cost of healthy food on campus are critical to changing their eating habits. Nahar, who serves as affiliate research faculty for LMU-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine and assistant professor of Public Health and One Health at LMU-College of Veterinary Medicine, joined primary investigators Dr. Manoi Sharma, professor of behavioral health at Jackson State University and M. Allison Ford, professor of health promotion at the University of Mississippi, on this study.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower the risk for a multitude of health problems such as heart disease, hypertension, stroke and diabetes, as well as some cancers, vision problems and gastrointestinal issues. A healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables high in fiber can also help prevent obesity, which is prevalent in 14.6 percent of college students across the nation, according to a survey by the American College Health Association.
“The eating habits we have as adults were often established while in college,” Nahar said. “Enticing students to add more fruits and vegetables into their diets now is key, but we must then focus on making those changes permanent.”
A total of 175 college students were surveyed to assess their willingness to change their diet and increase their intake of fruits and vegetables. Participants were asked to weigh pros like improved energy, meal variety and weight control against perceived disadvantages like being hungry, having less energy and not enjoying meals.
“Convincing college students it’s important to eat better is only half the battle,” said Philip Stephens, a second-year osteopathic medical student at LMU-DCOM who was involved in the study. “Getting students to actually change their behavior will mean making healthy foods easier to access and affordable for a college student’s budget.”
Students surveyed suggested changes in cafeterias such as adding vending machines that sell produce, increasing the variety of fruits offered and improving the taste and variety of cafeteria meal choices. Perhaps most important, students said produce needs to be more affordable.
According to the survey, sustaining a diet with the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables requires an emotional shift, in which students decide to eat healthy even when they are stressed or feeling low. Respondents also said keeping a diary or utilizing an app that helped track eating habits would help monitor their consumption and rectify their diet if they face difficulties. Finally, enlisting the support of family and friends appeared crucial to sustainment.
Nahar also serves as a researcher for the Center for Animal and Human Health in Appalachia. His research focuses on using health behavior theoretical models to conceptualize preventive behaviors in order to guide future interventions and provide a greater understanding of potential factors related to behavior change at many levels. He has been extensively working on the Multi-Theory Model (MTM) for health behavior change.
Lincoln Memorial University is a values-based learning community dedicated to providing educational experiences in the liberal arts and professional studies. The main campus is located in Harrogate, Tennessee. For more information about the undergraduate and graduate programs available at LMU, contact the Office of Admissions at 423.869.6280 or e-mail at admissions@LMUnet.edu.
About The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association (JAOA) is the official scientific publication of the American Osteopathic Association. Edited by Robert Orenstein, DO, it is the premier scholarly peer-reviewed publication of the osteopathic medical profession. The JAOA’s mission is to advance medicine through the publication of peer-reviewed osteopathic research.