Nutrition Literacy (NL) is the degree to which individuals can obtain, process, and understand nutrition information/skills to make appropriate nutrition decisions and can be categorized into three domains (functional, interactive, and critical). Limited studies have been conducted examining the relationship between the different NL domains and diet quality (DQ) in young adults.
To explore the influence of NL on DQ in undergraduate students.
Study Design, Settings, Participants
A cross-sectional convenience sample of undergraduate students completed an online survey that assessed health characteristics/behaviors including NL and DQ.
Nutrition literacy was measured using the Young Adult Nutrition Literacy Tool. Diet quality was assessed using the Short Healthy Eating Index (sHEI). Scores for NL were on a scale of 1-5, and DQ 1-100, with higher scores indicating higher NL and more healthful DQ. Multiple regressions were used to determine if total NL predicted DQ and, if so, which domains of NL (functional, interactive, or critical) were significant in predicting DQ.
Participants (n = 841) were an average of 20.9 (± 2.3) years old, mostly White (89%), and female (70%). The average sHEI score was 49.4 (± 10.3), indicating poor to moderate DQ. The mean total NL score was 3.50 (± 0.45). Mean functional, interactive, and critical NL scores were 3.33 (± 0.62), 3.55 (± 0.61), and 3.61 (± 0.52), respectively. Total NL was a significant predictor of DQ (r2 = 0.113, F (1,880) = 111.760, P < 0.001). Two domains of NL (interactive and critical) explained 12.8% of variance in DQ (r2 = 0.131, F (3,878) = 44.229, P < 0.001). Interactive NL (β = 0.267, P < 0.001) and critical NL (β = 0.122, P = 0.001) significantly predicted DQ, but functional NL did not.
Nutrition literacy was significant in predicting diet quality in undergraduate students. These findings justify the need for increased efforts to understand NL in college students, as well as highlight the potential of improving DQ by improving NL in this population.
USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Hatch project number #ME013054538 through the Maine Agricultural & Forest Experiment Station