Food away from home: predicting frequency and changing selections

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Deirdre A. Dingman (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Mark Schulz

Abstract: Since the 1970s, the rates of overweight and obesity have increased among all age groups in the US. The greatest increase has been in young adults, including college aged students, placing them at risk for early onset chronic diseases and shortened lifespans. One potential cause of the increased rates of obesity is the rise in consumption of away from home foods, which are often high in calories, saturated fat, and added sugar. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage people to eat more meals at home and to choose lower calorie meals and snacks while dining out. Two sources of away from home meals that often sell high calorie meals and snacks are fast food restaurants and vending machines. College students frequently consume foods from both. Research suggests that the affordability or financial access of fast food meals and the availability of fast food restaurants are two factors that promote the consumption of fast food meals. However, it is not known what predicts fast food consumption among college students who can access fast food meals with their meal plans. Research also suggests that providing nutrition information at fast food restaurants can lead to a reduction in the average number of calories purchased there, but it is not known if providing nutrition information at vending machines will lead to a reduction in calories purchased by college students. The purpose of this dissertation research was to identify factors associated with fast food consumption among college students and to test whether a particular strategy (i.e., providing nutrition information at the vending site) could change purchasing behavior among college students. The first study tested whether days on campus, financial access, and health consciousness were associated with the number of meals that college students obtained from fast food restaurants. In April 2013, a sample of 1246 students who were currently enrolled in a UNCG meal plan completed an online survey in which they accounted for where they obtained their past week's meals. There was a positive association between financial access as measured by the amount of flex dollars on a student's purchased meal plan and the number of meals they obtained from fast food meals restaurants in the past week. There was a negative association between a student's level of health consciousness (i.e., monitoring calorie and fat intake and using nutrition labels) and the number of meals obtained from fast food restaurants in the past week. Specifically, a one-unit increase in level of health consciousness was associated with a 23% decrease in number of fast food meals. Exposure to fast food restaurants, as measured by the number of days spent on campus in the last week, was not associated with the number of meals obtained from fast food restaurants. The second study tested the effect of a multi-component nutrition information labeling intervention at the vending site. In the fall of 2012, 18 UNCG residence halls (1 machine per hall) were randomly assigned to either a treatment or control condition. In the treatment condition, nutrition information was provided next to the vending machines, five snacks were identified on the sign as "Better Choice" items (i.e., relatively lower in saturated fat, sugar and calories compared to the other items in the machine) and a promotional email was sent to students living in those residence halls (n = 9 vending machines). In the control condition information was not provided at the vending machine and no email was sent to students living in those residence halls (n = 9 vending machines). Sales data were collected for 4 weeks before and 4 weeks during the intervention for each of the machines. At the end of the 8 weeks, the average number of calories and the proportion of Better Choice snacks sold per and post intervention was compared. No difference in either outcome was found. The dissertation concludes with a discussion of strengths and limitations of both studies, and suggestions for next steps for programming and research.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2013
College students, Diet, Fast food meals, Obesity, Vending machines
College students $x Nutrition
Convenience food $x Health aspects

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