College Women Can Use Food Strategies, Study Finds

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SUNDAY, Sept. 21, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Young women starting college understand the benefits of a healthy diet and know which foods they should eat. But they aren't confident they can follow through on these wise nutritional choices, according to a new study.

The study involved 268 female college freshmen enrolled in the University of Illinois's Peer Education Exercising and Eating Right program. The students answered food-related questions such as what would they choose to eat if they were very busy with school work, were very hungry or not hungry at all. They were also asked what they would eat if they were dealing with foods that take time and effort to prepare.

"The women in our study weren't very confident about their ability to eat a healthful diet, especially if they had to do something physical like chop vegetables or go shopping. The motivation just wasn't strong if they were at a party or in places where there were other fun choices," Karen Chapman-Novakofski, a professor of nutrition, said in a news release.

Although these students believed they could stick to low-fat options, they were particularly unsure about meeting their calcium requirements. The researchers said this was potentially worrisome since it could affect their risk for the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis later in life.

"Women optimize bone mass when they're about 18 years old so we're talking about an important time for them to be consuming calcium," said Chapman-Novakofski.

Study co-author Leia Kedem, a dietitian and nutrition educator, pointed out there there are many more choices when it comes to low-fat foods. "Women have developed strategies for dealing with high- versus low-fat choices. They can have chicken instead of ground beef or have a salad instead of a Reuben," she said.

But, Kedem added, "there are fewer ways of including calcium-dense, even fortified, foods in your diet, so it's even more important to have a strategy for including dairy foods."

Chapman-Novakofski said personal, behavioral, and environmental factors influence combine to affect behavior. "If a student has strategized ways to stick to a healthy diet in challenging situations, she will be more likely to be committed to her goals and to achieve them," she said.

More information

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation talks about weight gain in college.