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