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Nutrition

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

Suggestions for Student Leaders

This page is intended to be a resource containing suggestions for what you can do to improve NYU students’ dietary habits and nutritional status.

Provide healthy meals and snacks at meetings and events. The New York State Department of Health Guidelines for Healthy Meetings provide menu suggestions and meeting tips.

For Example:

o Offer water, low-fat milk, coffee and tea at all events in place of sweetened beverages.

o Offer fruits and vegetables at events.

Such guidelines have been shown to increase consumption of healthier foods and beverages.28

Host healthy cooking demonstration programs. Select recipes that students could realistically prepare on their own and provide them with recipe printouts to take home.  For examples of healthy recipes, visit livewellnyu.com or the NYU Student Health Center Nutrition Services page.

Host an event themed around a particular style of food (e.g. Vegan Night or Mediterranean Potluck) to encourage students to learn how to prepare (and to eat) a variety of healthy dishes.

Provide a “suggested plate” of food served at events and meetings. These displays will model portion control for both the staff member serving the food and for the student. Preliminary research has supported the effectiveness of portion control tools in weight loss.28 For nutrition guidelines and resources, visit NYU Student Health Center's Nutrition Services, www.choosemyplate.gov or contact LiveWellNYU (livewell@nyu.edu) for further assistance.

Promote consumption of water or low-calorie beverages instead of sugary drinks. A major contributor to the obesity epidemic is the sugar consumed in beverages such as soda, coffee beverages, fruit drinks, sweetened teas and sports drinks.29-31 These beverages provide excess calories and few essential nutrients to a student’s overall diet. Drinking water has been shown to increase students’ hydration and cognitive function,32 which may lead to more alertness and better academic performance. At university-sponsored events, provide pitchers of water or water stations instead of sweetened beverages, and when possible offer reusable water bottles. If you notice an academic building or residence hall that lacks options or water coolers speak with the residence hall council or the student government to advocate for improved access to free tap water.

Advocate for more prep stations in lounges and other appropriate common areas. Refrigerators, microwaves, and tap water filtration systems help provide a sanitary place to wash, cut and wrap fruit/vegetables for immediate consumption or storage; refrigerate/heat up healthy meals; and promote drinking tap water instead of sugar beverages. If you notice an academic building, activity space, or residence hall that lacks options or water coolers speak with the residence hall council or the student government to advocate for improved access to prep stations.

Offer resources to students to assist them with making healthy decisions about food.   Use your newsletters, email announcements, bulletin boards, and other modalities to promote healthy eating tips, resources, and services. You can also include fun resources such as menus for healthy, inexpensive restaurants.  Promote the Nutrition Resource Guide, which provides a listing of on-campus programs and resources for students to engage in nutrition related issues or to help them develop healthier eating habits.  Visit the NYU Student Health Center's Nutrition Services, the Wellness Exchange or LiveWellNYU.com for ideas and suggested content.

Accommodate a variety of lifestyles and eating habits when providing food for students including vegan, vegetarian, kosher, and gluten-free food items.

Host a ‘Cheap & Healthy Eats Tour’ of the NYU neighborhood with your student group (or ask a group of friends to help you). Research suggests that students rely too heavily on calorie dense and nutritionally empty foods, mostly because they are fast, easy, and relatively inexpensive.33 Collaborate with a nutrition or food studies club to host an event to find spots near campus that are fast, easy, cheap—and healthy. Post a list of the top ten on your group’s Twitter, Facebook, or blog to encourage other NYU students to try them out.

Advocate for healthier options in the campus vending machines. Foods and beverages sold in vending machines are not mandated by nutrient standards; therefore vending options may be high in calories, total fat, saturated fat, added sugars, cholesterol, and sodium. Limiting access to calorie-dense and nutritionally empty foods has been shown to reduce the consumption of these items.34 With your help, NYU can develop nutrition policies that curb the sale of these less healthy food choices. Speak to your Student Senators Council representative to advocate for healthier options.

Be aware of the warning signs of an eating disorder: significant weight loss or gain, change in mood/affect, continued distress about food and body, avoidance of social situations where food is offered, making excuses to eat less, exercise over rest/sleep/social events, grades dropping, skipping class. If you think that a student may be struggling, contact the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999 for advice about how to handle the situation.


nutrition indicators


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

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  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 http://www.ba.ars.usda.gov/cnrg.
  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 http://barnard.edu/green/greenlights/waterfilter031609.htm
  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 http://www.cdc.gov/CommunitiesPuttingPreventiontoWork/strategies/index.htm
  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 http://health.mo.gov/data/interventionmica/Nutrition/CampaignsandPromotions/index.html
  28. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC Guide To Strategies For Reducing The Consumption Of Energy Dense Foods. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; March 2010
  29. 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
  30. 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.
  31. National Policy and Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity. (2010). Model Wellness Policy Language for Water Access in Schools.
  32. 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.
  33. National Prevention Council. 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, 2011.
  34. 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), 52-52.


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