Research Article| Volume 48, ISSUE 1, P12-19.e1, January 2016

University Students Intend to Eat Better but Lack Coping Self-Efficacy and Knowledge of Dietary Recommendations

  • June I. Matthews
    Division of Food and Nutritional Sciences, Brescia University College, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada
    Search for articles by this author
  • Lisa Doerr
    Division of Food and Nutritional Sciences, Brescia University College, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada
    Search for articles by this author
  • Paula D.N. Dworatzek
    Address for correspondence: Paula D. N. Dworatzek, PhD, RD, Division of Food and Nutritional Sciences, Brescia University College, Western University, 1285 Western Rd, London, Ontario N6G 1H2, Canada; Phone: (519) 432-8353, ext 28020
    Division of Food and Nutritional Sciences, Brescia University College, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada

    Schulich Interfaculty Program in Public Health, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada
    Search for articles by this author
Published:September 27, 2015DOI:



      To assess university students’ knowledge, intentions, and coping self-efficacy related to dietary recommendations.


      The study used a cross-sectional online survey.


      Large university campus.


      Students (n = 6,638; 22% response).

      Variables Measured

      Self-efficacy and intentions were measured using 11-point scales. Students’ perceived dietary recommendations were evaluated as correct or incorrect.


      Categorical variables were analyzed using chi-square and continuous variables by t tests or ANOVAs. Significance was set at P ≤ .05 and multiple comparisons at P ≤ .01.


      Respondents believed that they need fewer vegetables and fruit and more milk or alternatives servings/d than recommended; eg, males aged ≥ 19 years perceived milk or alternatives recommendations to be 4.3 ± 2.1 servings/d, significantly more than the 2 servings/d recommended (P < .001). Students in health sciences or with a food or nutrition course were significantly more likely to claim that they met recommendations (eg, 56% with vs 47% without a food or nutrition course for vegetables and fruit; P < .001); however, they were no more likely to identify them correctly. Males aged < 19 years had higher coping self-efficacy than females aged < 19 years to consume vegetables (68.3 ± 24.2 vs 64.0 ± 24.7; P < .01) and avoid high-calorie foods and beverages (HCFB) (56.2 ± 27.2 vs 49.0 ± 25.2; P < .01) when under stress; however, they had significantly lower intentions to consume vegetables (72.1 ± 24.5 vs 80.9 ± 20.3; P < .01) and avoid HCFB (60.5 ± 30.3 vs 77.7 ± 22.8; P < .01).

      Conclusions and Implications

      Students do not have adequate knowledge of age- and sex-specific food guide recommendations. Simpler food guide recommendations or age- and sex-targeted campaigns may enhance knowledge. Students intend to consume more vegetables and less HCFB; however, they have low coping self-efficacy, all of which could be targeted in nutrition interventions.

      Key Words

      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access

      SNEB Member Login

      SNEB Members, full access to the journal is a member benefit. Login via the SNEB Website to access all journal content and features.


      Subscribe to Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect


        • American College Health Association
        National College Health Assessment II: Canadian Reference Group Data Report Spring 2013.
        American College Health Association, Hanover, MD2013
        • Poddar K.H.
        • Hosig K.W.
        • Nickols-Richardson S.M.
        • Anderson E.S.
        • Herbert W.G.
        • Duncan S.E.
        Low-fat dairy intake and body weight and composition changes in college students.
        J Am Diet Assoc. 2009; 109: 1433-1438
        • Arts J.
        • Luz Fernandez M.
        • Lofgren I.E.
        Coronary heart disease risk factors in college students.
        Adv Nutr. 2014; 5: 177-187
        • Kasparek D.G.
        • Corwin S.J.
        • Valois R.F.
        • Sargent R.G.
        • Lewis Morris R.
        Selected health behaviors that influence college freshman weight change.
        J Am Coll Health. 2008; 56: 437-444
        • Vella-Zarb R.A.
        • Elgar F.J.
        The “Freshman 15”: a meta-analysis of weight gain in the Freshman year of college.
        J Am Coll Health. 2009; 58: 161-166
      1. Educational and Community Based Programs ECBP-7.9. Healthy People 2020. United States Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed May 10, 2015.

        • Crites S.L.
        • Aikman S.N.
        Impact of nutrition knowledge on food evaluations.
        Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005; 59: 1191-1200
        • Matvienko O.
        • Lewis D.S.
        • Schafer E.
        A college nutrition science course as an intervention to prevent weight gain in female college freshmen.
        J Nutr Educ. 2001; 33: 95-101
        • Emrich T.E.
        • Mazier M.J.P.
        Impact of nutrition education on university students’ fat consumption.
        Can J Diet Pract Res. 2009; 70: 187-192
        • Ha E.-J.
        • Caine-Bish N.
        Effect of nutrition intervention using a general nutrition course for promoting fruit and vegetable consumption among college students.
        J Nutr Educ Behav. 2009; 41: 103-109
        • Health Canada
        Eating Well With Canada’s Food Guide.
        Health Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada2007
        • Weinstein N.D.
        Unrealistic optimism about susceptibility to health problems.
        J Behav Med. 1982; 5: 441-460
        • Green J.S.
        • Grant M.
        • Hill K.L.
        • Brizzolara J.
        • Belmont B.
        Heart disease risk perception in college men and women.
        J Am Coll Health. 2003; 51: 207-211
        • National Institute of Nutrition
        Tracking Nutrition Trends IV: An Update on Canadians’ Nutrition-Related Attitudes, Knowledge and Actions.
        National Institute of Nutrition, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada2002
        • Mezirow J.
        Transformative learning: theory to practice.
        New Directions for Adult and Continuous Learning. 1997; 74: 5-12
        • Bandura A.
        Health promotion by social cognitive means.
        Health Educ Behav. 2004; 31: 143-164
        • Courneya K.S.
        • Plotnikoff R.C.
        • Hotz S.B.
        • Birkett N.J.
        Predicting exercise stage transitions over two consecutive 6-month periods: a test of the theory of planned behaviour in a population-based sample.
        Br J Health Psychol. 2001; 6: 135-150
        • Lezner T.
        A psycholinguistic look at survey question design and response quality [dissertation].
        Universität Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany2011
        • Tomasone J.R.
        • Meikle N.
        • Bray S.R.
        Intentions and trait self-control predict fruit and vegetable consumption during the transition to first-year university.
        J Am Coll Health. 2015; 63: 172-179
        • Dillman D.A.
        Mail and Telephone Surveys: The Total Design Method.
        John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY1978
        • Western Office of Institutional Planning and Budgeting
        Institutional Data and Analysis–Western Facts.
        Western University, London, ON2012-2013
        • Brown L.B.
        • Larsen K.J.
        • Nyland N.K.
        • Egget D.L.
        Eating competence of college students in an introductory nutrition course.
        J Nutr Educ Behav. 2013; 45: 269-273
        • Brown K.
        • Wengreen H.
        • Dimmick M.
        • et al.
        Improving diets of college students: survey of dietary habits and focus group perspectives on how to best teach students.
        J Health Behav Public Health. 2011; 1: 23-29
        • Kolodinsky J.
        • Harvey-Berino J.R.
        • Berline L.
        • Johnson R.K.
        • Reynolds T.W.
        Knowledge of current dietary guidelines and food choice by college students: better eaters have higher knowledge of dietary guidance.
        J Am Diet Assoc. 2007; 107: 1409-1413
        • Poddar K.H.
        • Hosig K.W.
        • Anderson E.S.
        • Nickols-Richardson S.M.
        • Duncan S.E.
        Web-based nutrition education intervention improves self-efficacy and self-regulation related to increased dairy intake in college students.
        J Am Diet Assoc. 2010; 110: 1723-1727
      2. Dairy Farmers of Canada. Accessed September 3, 2015.

      3. Foodland Ontario. Accessed September 3, 2015.

        • Bisogni C.A.
        • Jastran M.
        • Seligson M.
        • Thompson A.
        How people interpret healthy eating: contributions of qualitative research.
        J Nutr Educ Behav. 2012; 44: 282-301
        • Paisley J.
        • Sheeshka J.
        • Daly K.
        Qualitative investigation of the meanings of eating fruits and vegetables for adult couples.
        J Nutr Educ. 2001; 33: 199-207
        • De Bruijn G.J.
        Understanding college students’ fruit consumption. Integrating habit strength in the theory of planned behavior.
        Appetite. 2010; 54: 16-22
        • Matthews J.I.
        • Zok A.V.
        • Quenneville E.P.M.
        • Dworatzek P.D.N.
        Development and implementation of FRESH—a post-secondary nutrition education program incorporating population strategies, experiential learning and intersectoral partnerships.
        Can J Public Health. 2014; 105: e306-e311
        • Kandiah J.
        • Yake M.
        • Jones J.
        • Meyer M.
        Stress influences appetite and comfort food preferences in college women.
        Nutr Res. 2006; 26: 118-123
        • Wardle J.
        • Haase A.M.
        • Steptoe A.
        • Nillapun M.
        • Jonwutiwes K.
        • Bellisle F.
        Gender differences in food choice: the contribution of beliefs and dieting.
        Ann Behav Med. 2004; 27: 107-116
        • Levi A.
        • Chan K.K.
        • Fence D.
        Real men do not real labels: the effects of masculinity and involvement on college students’ food decisions.
        J Am Coll Health. 2006; 55: 91-98
        • Kelly N.R.
        • Mazzeo S.E.
        • Bean M.K.
        Systematic review of dietary interventions with college students: directions for future research and practice.
        J Nutr Educ Behav. 2013; 45: 304-313
        • Gough B.
        • Conner M.T.
        Barriers to healthy eating amongst men: a qualitative analysis.
        Soc Sci Med. 2006; 62: 387-395
        • American College Health Association
        National College Health Assessment II: Reference Group Data Report Fall 2013.
        American College Health Association, Hanover, MD2014
        • Wansink B.
        Change their choice! Changing behavior using the CAN approach and activism research.
        Psychol Market. 2015; 32: 486-500