Identifying perceived barriers and enablers of healthy eating in college students in Hawai’i: a qualitative study using focus groups

Research paper by Lucia Amore, Opal Vanessa Buchthal, Jinan C. Banna

Indexed on: 22 Feb '19Published on: 22 Feb '19Published in: BMC Nutrition


To design effective nutrition education interventions for college students, research is needed to determine the factors influencing food choices. The purpose of this study was to identify perceived barriers and enablers of healthy eating in college students ages 18–24 at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.Prior to conducting focus groups, an interview guide was developed based on a literature review of relevant studies. The interview guide was successfully tested in the first focus group and used in the rest of the focus groups. Eleven focus groups with group sizes of two to six were conducted (n = 44). Focus groups were audio-recorded and transcribed. Transcripts were coded in NVIVO11 using content analysis, and additional codes were added to the codebook based on emergent ideas from the transcripts. After completion of the final codebook, transcripts were recoded with the new codebook. Final code counts were used to identify overarching ideas based on the socio-ecological model of health, consisting of four levels of influence: individual (intrapersonal), social environmental (interpersonal), physical environmental (community settings), and macrosystem (societal).The largest barriers according to level of influence in the socio-ecological model were nutrition knowledge deficit (individual), peer pressure (social environmental), unsupportive institutional environment (physical environmental), and cost (macrosystem). The largest enablers were nutrition knowledge (individual), parental influence (social environmental), an institutional environment with consistent healthy offerings (physical environmental), and social media (macrosystem). Some factors served as barriers for some participants and enablers for others, such as parental influence.Factors such as individual knowledge and parental support were cited as having a positive influence in promoting healthy eating, while factors such as the cost of living and food availability at college serve as barriers even for motivated students. Results from this study identify potential areas of intervention, such as improving nutrition knowledge (individual), offering more healthy options (physical environmental), or reducing cost of food (macrosystem). However, more research is needed to identify which level of intervention may be most effective in changing food habits, and which barriers or enablers are deciding factors in determining this population’s food choices.