Purpose: To identify impact of an online nutrition and physical activity program for college students.
Design: Randomized, controlled trial using online questionnaires and on-site physical and fitness assessments with measurement intervals of 0 (baseline), 3 (postintervention), and 15 months (follow-up).
Setting: Online intervention delivered to college students; a centralized Web site was used for recruitment, data collection, data management, and intervention delivery.
Subjects: College students (18-24 years old, n = 1689), from eight universities (Michigan State University, South Dakota State University, Syracuse University, The Pennsylvania State University, Tuskegee University, University of Rhode Island, University of Maine, and University of Wisconsin).
Intervention: A 10-lesson curriculum focusing on healthful eating and physical activity, stressing nondieting principles such as size acceptance and eating competence (software developer: Rainstorm, Inc, Orono, Maine).
Measures: Measurements included anthropometrics, cardiorespiratory fitness, fruit/vegetable (FV) intake, eating competence, physical activity, and psychosocial stress.
Analysis: Repeated measures analysis of variance for outcome variables.
Results: Most subjects were white, undergraduate females (63%), with 25% either overweight or obese. Treatment group completion rate for the curriculum was 84%. Over 15 months, the treatment group had significantly higher FV intake (+.5 cups/d) and physical activity participation (+270 metabolic equivalent minutes per week) than controls. For both groups, anthropometric values and stress increased, and fitness levels decreased. Gender differences were present for most variables. First-year males and females gained more weight than participants in other school years.
Conclusion: A 10-week online nutrition and physical activity intervention to encourage competence in making healthful food and eating decisions had a positive, lasting effect on FV intake and maintained baseline levels of physical activity in a population that otherwise experiences significant declines in these healthful behaviors.