Changes in eating and physical activity behaviors across seven semesters of college: living on or off campus matters.

Research paper by Meg M Small, Lisa L Bailey-Davis, Nicole N Morgan, Jennifer J Maggs

Indexed on: 13 Dec '12Published on: 13 Dec '12Published in: Health education & behavior : the official publication of the Society for Public Health Education


The transition from adolescence to adulthood is an important period for establishing behavioral patterns that affect long-term health and chronic disease risk. Nelson and colleagues speculated that developmental changes and changes in living situation may play an important role in the nutrition and physical activity behaviors of college students. Data from the University Life Study, a longitudinal study of college students that includes web-based surveys administered 14 consecutive days each semester, were used to examine fruit, vegetable, and sugared soda consumption, physical activity, and sedentary activity behaviors across seven semesters. Estimates for each semester were calculated to determine the frequency with which students consumed fruits, vegetables, and sugared soda, engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity, and engaged in sedentary activities. Four models, estimated with HLM 6.04, were used to predict changes in these behaviors across the seven semesters. Living on or off campus was included to determine if this explained additional variance. Results indicated that few college students consumed fruits and vegetables or exercised at optimal levels during the seven semesters surveyed. Daily fruit and vegetable consumption and daily physical activity declined significantly from the first to the seventh semester. For both of these findings, living off campus exacerbated the problem. Average number of hours of sedentary behaviors declined over time, as did number of days on which at least one sugared soda was consumed. Living location did not explain additional variance in these positive trends. Implications for policy, practice, and future research are discussed.