College Students and Eating Habits: A Study Using An Ecological Model for Healthy Behavior

Nutrients. 2018 Nov 23;10(12):1823. doi: 10.3390/nu10121823.


Overweightness and obesity rates have increased dramatically over the past few decades and they represent a health epidemic in the United States (US). Unhealthy dietary habits are among the factors that can have adverse effects on weight status in young adulthood. The purpose of this explorative study was to use a qualitative research design to analyze the factors (barriers and enablers) that US college students perceived as influencing healthy eating behaviors. A group of Cornell University students (n = 35) participated in six semi-structured focus groups. A qualitative software, CAQDAS Nvivo11 Plus, was used to create codes that categorized the group discussions while using an Ecological Model. Common barriers to healthy eating were time constraints, unhealthy snacking, convenience high-calorie food, stress, high prices of healthy food, and easy access to junk food. Conversely, enablers to healthy behavior were improved food knowledge and education, meal planning, involvement in food preparation, and being physically active. Parental food behavior and friends' social pressure were considered to have both positive and negative influences on individual eating habits. The study highlighted the importance of consulting college students when developing healthy eating interventions across the campus (e.g., labeling healthy food options and information campaigns) and considering individual-level factors and socio-ecological aspects in the analysis.

Keywords: USA; focus group; interventions; overweight; qualitative studies; young adults.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Diet*
  • Environment
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • New York
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Social Environment
  • Students*
  • Universities*
  • Young Adult