Studies have shown that a significant number of college students struggle to make healthy eating choices. Of course, the inability to develop and sustain healthy eating habits poses both physiological and mental risks to college students. Poor dietary choices can cause health problems, thereby affecting academic productivity. Several factors are influencing healthy eating habits among college students, as discussed below.
The first type of factor is individual factors. These are factors related to the individual and may differ from person to person. They include cooking skills, culture, food taste, past eating behavior, state of mind, nutritional knowledge/participation.
An individual’s cooking skills may influence their dietary intake in college. Students who can cook may find it easier to make cooking arrangements, while students who cannot cook are more likely to avoid cooking in their rooms. Such students will opt to avoid cooking in their rooms and eat in the dining hall or fast food joints. Nonetheless, some students eventually learn how to cook and start cooking for themselves. However, before they develop cooking skills, they will have limited food options, which may lead to unhealthy eating habits.
Another individual factor is culture. Some students come from cultures where males do not generally cook. When they are forced to live independently without female relatives to cook, they do not know where to start. Food choices also play a role in food choices among college students. Students will likely make choices based on what they are familiar with. This primarily affects students who are studying in a foreign country. Such students would determine what to eat based on their experiences and backgrounds. For instance, some students prefer spicy food while others prefer sweet or bitter food. Additionally, students are more likely to go for fast food than the dining hall because the food is cooked the same way using the same ingredients throughout the year.
State of Mind
State of mind is another individual factor influencing healthy eating habits among college students. College students are faced with a lot of pressure as they struggle to perform well in their academics. Completing assignments and preparing for exams takes so much headspace that some students may lose interest in cooking. Some students may find themselves skipping breakfast and even other meals because they spend too much time studying.
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When they do manage to eat, it is in restaurants while looking. Additionally, students tend to celebrate exam completion by trying out new dishes which may not always be the healthiest. As Lauren Bradshaw stated, “Health is just like money, and we don’t value it until we lose it.”
Past Eating Behavior
Their past eating behavior also influences students’ eating habits. Students may prefer to eat foods that they are familiar with. Family feeding practices may also come into play. Individuals who grew up in urban areas are more likely to eat processed foods, while those who grew up in rural areas may be partial to carbohydrates such as primary type. Also, college students typically have little knowledge about a healthy diet. Their understanding of the health benefits of nutritious food choices is limited. These students care that they get something to eat and do not care what the food is. Students purchase food because they find it tasty or convenient and pay little or no attention to the food’s nutritional value.
Additionally, a majority of the students have a poor perception of the value of nutrition. Some students feel that they are too young to worry about food. Such students believe that they are healthy and therefore do not need to eat healthily.
The second category of factors that affect healthy eating habits among college students is environmental factors. These include such things as the availability of healthy fresh raw food items, seasonal foods. When students cannot access these foods, they will seek other alternatives and eat unhealthy meals.
Third, there are economic factors such as the cost of food. Students are more likely to skip meals if they are unable to feed themselves. Most students do not have a reliable income source, and healthy food options may not be within their budget. Students who live in low-income neighborhoods may be able to access fast food at a significantly lower cost than healthy food options.
Fourth, societal factors such as peer pressure also affect healthy eating habits among college students. Roommates, classmates, and close friends may have a direct influence on an individual’s dietary choices. This may happen where they pool resources to make a meal together and end up having to eat what is preferred by others. Friends may influence each other’s dietary habits when they need to split the cost of meals which means that they have to eat the same food. Students who prefer to cook may be similarly affected in that they would stick to a limited food variety to reduce the work needed to make the meal.
Campus Lifestyle Related Factors
Finally, students’ eating habits may be influenced by factors related to the university. These may include the culture and lifestyle they are exposed to on the campus. More athletic students will lean towards proteins and vegetables, and such students may avoid carbohydrates because they fear gaining weight. Such students may become obsessed with maintaining their muscular bodies and eventually harm themselves through poor dietary choices. Academic activities also come into play where students feel under pressure to study and neglect to take care of their bodies. Place of residency also affects eating habits as some students can visit their homes and have a proper meal. Some may also live in residence halls with adequate cooking facilities, which encourage them to cook their meals.
In conclusion, college students struggle with healthy eating habits due to several factors which may or may not be within their control. As evidenced above, individual, societal, university-related, environmental, and economic factors all influence healthy eating habits among college students. The different change barriers in eating habits depend on the people, and campaigns should be held across campuses to promote the best dietary practices.