N° 31 | February 2009

UNIVERSITY FOOD CHOICES

Editorial

The three papers in this issue of the Ifava newsletter provide an interesting perspective on the dietary behaviour of university students and point to possible explanations and ways of improving health behaviours. The results in the first paper regarding a cohort of German students provide further evidence of the poor lifestyle habits already observed in European student surveys and national reports published in the last decade. Some points may be highlighted from this and the two following papers. Studies based on the university environment draw upon a short period of life; thus the number of studies is relatively limited.

However, the results consistently demonstrate that university students are particularly vulnerable to poor health behaviours and should be taken seriously by public health authorities. It will be important to conduct studies on the impact of university-based interventions in terms of academic performance as well as health and dietary behaviours in later life. Furthermore, it will be essential to assess whether those traits identified amongst university students are transitory or persist beyond university life.

Medical students appear to have comparatively (though slightly) better health behaviours, but whether these are linked to a stronger health consciousness or rather reflect other explanatory models deserves scrutiny. Clearly, food offered in university canteens is a part of the explanation of poor diets amongst students; improvement in the nutritional quality and price of the offered meals is a modest, but efficient way to lead to improvement. Finally, addressing the economic constraints of the student (and indeed the general) population, and making safe, healthy foods available and affordable to all must continue to be a priority, in part because disease prevention through good nutrition initiatives makes clear economic sense.

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