Food and Nutrient Intakes of College Students

Of the three nutrients that provide calories (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats), carbohydrate (particularly sugar) and fat intake often exceeds recommended levels. College students also tend to have a low intake of dietary fiber, calorie: unit of food energy carbohydrate: food molecule made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, including sugars and starches protein: complex molecule composed of amino acids that performs vital functions in the cell; necessary part of the diet fiber: indigestible plant material that aids digestion by providing bulk

Irregular class schedules, part-time jobs, and variable homework loads can disrupt normal eating patterns among college students, leading to unhealthy habits that may be hard to break. Despite these difficulties, it is important for students to find time for nutritious and varied foods. [AP/Wide World Photos. Reproduced by permission.]

Irregular class schedules, part-time jobs, and variable homework loads can disrupt normal eating patterns among college students, leading to unhealthy habits that may be hard to break. Despite these difficulties, it is important for students to find time for nutritious and varied foods. [AP/Wide World Photos. Reproduced by permission.]

vitamin: necessary complex nutrient used to aid enzymes or other metabolic processes in the cell mineral: an inorganic (non-carbon-containing) element, ion, or compound calcium: mineral essential for bones and teeth iron: nutrient needed for red blood cell formation zinc: mineral necessary for many enzyme processes energy: technically, the ability to perform work; the content of a substance that allows it to be useful as a fuel anorexia nervosa: refusal to maintain body weight at or above what is considered normal for height and age which is important for intestinal health. In terms of vitamins, a low vitamin C status has been associated with college students' low intake of fruits and vegetables (with levels of vitamin C being even lower among smokers). In terms of minerals, calcium, iron, and zinc intake are low, while sodium intake is generally higher than recommended.

Male college students are more likely to meet dietary intake recommendations for the meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, and nuts group; from the bread, cereal, rice, and pasta group; and from the vegetable food group than are females. Males seem to consume more food overall, and thus have a higher energy (calorie) intake. Female college students tend to eat too few breads, grains, and dairy products. In addition, it is estimated that about 10 percent of college students drink more than fifteen alcoholic beverages per week, further impairing the quality of their diet.

Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are more prevalent among college females than among the general population. This is related to body image dissatisfaction—females that are underweight, as measured by their body mass index (BMI), sometimes consider themselves to be overweight. The incidence of anorexia and bulimia may increase when there is excessive preoccupation with weight, academic achievement, body image, and eating, as well as during stressful periods, such as final exams.

The prevalence of disordered eating is especially high among female athletes. College athletes may manipulate diet and fluid intake, putting their health at risk. They may also jeopardize their health by taking dangerous or excessive amounts of supplements as a result of misinformation, or of pressure from coaches or peers. Athletes may feel pressured to restrict their food intake if they are on an athletic scholarship or competing in weight-classification sports such as wrestling. Female athletes may be underweight or have an extremely low amount of body fat. The female athlete triad (disordered eating, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis) is estimated to occur in 15 to 62 percent of female college athletes.

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