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Despite the significant implications of healthy eating on overall long-term health, many college students engage in poor dietary habits, such as high intake of fast foods and other foods high in fat, low intake of fruits, vegetables, and dairy, and erratic eating behaviors such as meal skipping.1 A balanced diet can help students increase energy levels, promote a functioning immune system, improve their ability to cope with stress, and increase concentration and performance in school. Healthy eating is influenced by a variety of factors. For students in particular, factors influencing dietary habits include time, availability of healthy options, friends’ eating habits, and nutritional knowledge. University stakeholders can support healthy eating by making healthy options affordable, accessible, and desirable while providing information on making healthy food and beverage choices.

Key Facts

  • 24.3% of NYU students are overweight, of which 6.0% are obese.29
  • During the first 3–4 months of college, students gain an average of 1.5–6.8 lb., with the proportion of overweight or obese students as much as doubling by the end of the first semester.3
  • The prevalence of obesity among young adults more than doubled in the past 30 years. The most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data indicate that the prevalence has continued to increase since 1999.2
  • Soft drink intake is highest among 19-39 year olds compared to other age groups.4
  • NHANES data illustrate that a majority of young adults (aged 20–29 years) consume <1 serving/day of fruit (males 63%, females 59%) and vegetables, including potatoes (males 19%, females 20%).5
  • On average, college students eat at fast-food restaurants 1 to 3 times per week.28

nutrition indicators


  1. Reduce on-campus access to, and availability of, calorie-dense and nutritionally empty foods.
    Calorie-dense and nutritionally empty foods have low nutrient content but are high in calories, fat, sugar, and/or sodium. Frequent consumption of these types of foods is associated with weight gain and increased risk of certain chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.7,13 The availability of less healthy foods is inversely associated with fruit and vegetable consumption and is positively associated with fat intake among students.9 Research suggests that students rely too heavily on calorie-dense and nutritionally empty foods, mostly because they are fast, easy, and relatively inexpensive.7 Limiting access to calorie-dense and nutritionally empty foods has been shown to reduce the consumption of these items.9 The availability of such foods can be restricted by setting standards for the types of foods and beverages sold, increasing the cost of unhealthy foods, or changing the locations where unhealthy competitive foods are sold.9

  2. Increase on-campus access to water and low-calorie beverages.
    A major contributor to the obesity epidemic is the sugar consumed in sweetened beverages such as soda, coffee beverages, fruit drinks, sweetened teas and sports drinks.9,10,13 These beverages provide excess calories and few essential nutrients to a student’s overall diet and should only be consumed in moderation.13 Drinking water has been shown to increase students’ hydration and cognitive function,10 which may lead to more alertness and better academic performance. Effective strategies for increasing access to water and low-calorie beverages include: instituting differential pricing structures;18,26 installing water coolers or jets throughout campus;20,21,22 increasing availability in dining halls24,26 and vending  machine;26 and implementing point-of-decision prompts.17,23

  3. Develop and promote University-wide food guidelines for NYU facilities and sponsored events.
    NYU-sponsored dining halls, convenience stores, vending machines, and catering are often the primary sources of readily available food for students. University-wide nutrition guidelines have the potential to positively impact the ability for every individual within the NYU community to make healthy food choices.12,19 Policies that have been shown to increase consumption of healthier foods include: establishing procurement policies that increase the availability of healthier foods, providing nutritional information or healthier product labeling, creating price differentials between healthy and unhealthy foods, and establishing guidelines for foods served at meetings or events.18

  4. Implement point-of-decision interventions (such as calorie labeling and marketing and/or placement strategies) to make healthier food and low-calorie beverages more appealing.
    Point-of-purchase interventions provide cues to action about the nutritional value of certain food items to guide individuals in making healthier selections.7,11,16,17,23,27 These types of interventions are effective in a variety of settings and have the potential to influence eating patterns of an entire population.8,15-17 Examples include: using promotional signage highlighting certain types of food; providing nutrition information to compare healthier and less healthy options; using symbols to indicate nutritious items,7,11,16,17,23,27 and displaying portion sizes next to the meal choice.25 Point-of-purchase prompts serve to increase students’ awareness of what they are eating and their ability to better plan meals for their individual dietary

a) Consumption of 5 or more servings of fruits and/or vegetables per day

  • Data Source: ACHA #28
  • Survey Question: How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you usually have per day?
  • Definition: proportion eating 5 or more servings per day

b) Received Information on nutrition

  • Data Source: ACHA survey #2A8
  • Survey Question: Have you received information on the following topics from your college or university: nutrition?
  • Definition: proportion of students who received nutrition information from college/university

c) Sugar-sweetened beverage consumption

  • Data Source: ACHA survey custom question (nq76)
  • Survey Question: How many servings per day do you drink of soda (do not include diet soda or seltzer) or other sweetened drinks like sweetened coffee or tea?
  • Definition: proportion of students who drink 1 or more sugar-sweetened beverages per day

  1. Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., Curtin, L. R., & McDowell, M. A. (2006). Prevalence of overweight and obesity in the United States, 1999-2004. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 295(13), 1549-1555. doi: 10.1001/jama.295.13.1549
  2. Anderson, D. A., Shapiro, J. R., & Lundgren, J. D. (2003). The freshman year of college as a critical period for weight gain: An initial evaluation. Eating Behaviors, 4(4), 363-367. doi: 10.1016/S1471-0153(03)00030-8
  3. Nielsen, S., & Popkin, B. (2004). Changes in beverage intake between 1977 and 2001. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 27(3), 205-210. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2004.05.005
  4. Cook, A.J., Friday, J.E. (2004). Pyramid servings intakes in the United States 1999-2002, 1 Day. [Online]. Beltsville, MD: USDA, Agricultural Research Service, Community Nutrition Research Group, CNRG Table Set 3.0. Available at
  5. Hoban, M. (2007). American College Health Association - National College Health Assessment spring 2006 reference group data report (Abridged). Journal of the American College Health Association, 55(4), 195-206. doi: 10.3200/JACH.55.4.195-206
  6. Garcia, A. C., Sykes, L., Matthews, J., Martin, N., & Leipert, B. (2010). Perceived facilitators of and barriers to healthful eating among university students. Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research, 71(2), E28-E33. doi: 10.3148/71.2.2010.XX
  7. National Prevention Council. (2011). National prevention strategy: America’s plan for better health and wellness. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General.
  8. Keener, D., Goodman, K., Lowry, A., Zaro, S., & Kettel Khan, L. (2009). Recommended community strategies and measurements to prevent obesity in the United States: Implementation and measurement guide. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  9. Cason, K. L., & Wenrich, T. R. (2002). Health and nutrition beliefs, attitudes, and practices of undergraduate college students: A needs assessment. Topics in Clinical Nutrition, 17(3), 52.
  10. National Policy and Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity. (2010). Model Wellness Policy Language for Water Access in Schools.
  11. Briefel, R., Wilson, A., & Gleason, P. (2009). Consumption of low-nutrient, energy-dense foods and beverages at school, home, and other locations among school lunch participants and nonparticipants. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109(2), S79-S90. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2008.10.064
  12. New York State Department of Health. (2009, October). Guidelines for healthy meetings. New York State Department of Health.
  13. U.S. Department of Agriculture, & U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 2010.
  14. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Choosing Foods and Beverages for Healthy Meetings, Conferences, and Events. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  15. Freedman, M. R., & Connors, R. (2010). Point-of-purchase nutrition information influences food-purchasing behaviors of college students: A pilot study. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 110(8), 1222-1226. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2010.05.002
  16. Rodgers, A. B., Kessler, L. G., Portnoy, B., Potosky, A. L., Patterson, B., Tenney, J., ... Kahle, L. L. (1994). “Eat for health”: A supermarket intervention for nutrition and cancer risk reduction. American Journal of Public Health, 84(1), 72-76. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.84.1.72
  17. Schucker, R. E., Levy, A. S., Tenney, J. E., & Mathews, O. (1992). Nutrition shelf-labeling and consumer purchase behavior. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 24(2), 75-81.
  18. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010, March). The CDC guide to strategies for reducing the consumption of energy dense foods. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  19. White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity. (2010). Solving the problem of childhood obesity within a generation: White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity report to the President. Washington, DC: Executive Office of the President of the United States.
  20. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection. (2010). New York City 2010 drinking water supply and quality report. Flushing, NY: New York City, Dept. of Environmental Protection.
  21. Sustainability - Barnard growing greener. (n.d.). Barnard College. Retrieved September 15, 2011, from
  22. Muckelbauer, R., Libuda, L., Clausen, K., Toschke, A. M., Reinehr, T., & Kersting, M. (2009). Promotion and provision of drinking water in schools for overweight prevention: Randomized, controlled cluster trial. Pediatrics, 123(4), E661-E667. doi: 10.1542/peds.2008-2186
  23. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010, September 15). Nutrition and physical activity information for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) communities putting prevention to work. Retrieved from
  24. Peterson, S., Duncan, D. P., Null, D. B., Roth, S. L., & Gill, L. (2010). Positive changes in perceptions and selections of healthful foods by college students after a short-term point-of-selection intervention at a dining hall. Journal of American College Health, 58(5), 425-431. doi: 10.1080/07448480903540457
  25. Vermeer, W. M., Steenhuis, I. M., Leeuwis, F. H., Heymans, M. W., & Seidell, J. C. (2011). Small portion sizes in worksite cafeterias: Do they help consumers to reduce their food intake? International Journal of Obesity, 35(9), 1200-1207. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2010.271
  26. Food and Nutrition Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services & U.S. Department of Education FNS-374. (January 2005). Making It Happen! School nutrition success stories. Alexandria, VA.
  27. Nutrition Campaigns & Promotions. (n.d.). Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services. Retrieved from

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