University of Newcastle research reveals poor student diets

DIET TEST: Lecturer Leanne Brown using a spectrophotometer, whcih uses light to measure fruit and veggie intake, on dietetics student Mitchell Williams with physio student Sarah Russell. Photo: Gareth Gardner
DIET TEST: Lecturer Leanne Brown using a spectrophotometer, whcih uses light to measure fruit and veggie intake, on dietetics student Mitchell Williams with physio student Sarah Russell. Photo: Gareth Gardner

TAMWORTH uni students reckon the freedom of living on campus should mean young adults have the freedom to make healthy choices about their diet.

However, new research revealed how poorly university students are eating while working on their degrees.

The study by the University of Newcastle found 93 per cent of students do not eat the necessary serves of fruit and vegetables.

It found only 54.5 per cent of the 4,180 university students in the study ate the recommended two serves of fruit per day and 8.4 per cent ate the necessary five serves of vegetables a day.

It was no surprise for fourth year dietetics student Mitchell Williams.

“A lot of uni kids might not care too much about their diet,” he told The Leader.

“Maybe they think they’re too young to be affected by what they eat and it’s only something that happens when you’re older.”

Studying the science of nutrition has set Mr Williams up to take bit more care when it comes to chowing down.

Have you been lying about your veggie intake?

There’s a new way to tell.

The latest gadget at the University of Newcastle’s Department of Rural Health is the spectrophotometer.

The tool was initially used to match paint colours. Now it’s being used to examine fruit and vegetable intake.

The Leader’s journalist Jacob McArthur went head-to-head with some uni students in Tamworth on the innovative diet test.

Check out how it all works:

“This is my first time living out a home this year, that’s been a bit of a change for me,” he said.

“I would say you have more control over it when you move away.”

Fourth year physio student Sarah Russell previously lived on Campus at UNE and said time constraints were a barrier for students.

“You’re under so much stress to get your assignments in, you don’t really think you have enough time to get a prepare something like a stir fry,” she said.

“My residence was catered, and there was a lot of high-carb foods that sustain your hunger rather than to get you nutrients.”

Ms Russell’s move to the University of Newcastle Department of Rural Health in Tamworth meant she was living on campus with people studying health-based degrees.

Senior lecturer in nutrition and dietetics Leanne Brown said a poor diet while at university could have a negative flow-on effect.

“Some of the issues can be that people don’t get their vitamins and minerals it does affect their immune system,” Dr Brown said.

“Students are often quite stressed, busy studying.

“Letting themselves get run down and not having enough vitamins and minerals in their diet can cause them to not be able to cope with colds and flus.”

Dr Brown said the campus was set up to, hopefully, encourage some better choices while studying.

“They’ve got communal kitchens in their blocks which are fairly well-quipped and they are close to the supermarket to buy fresh foods,” she said.

“We don’t have the fast-food type chains on campus, we don’t have many vending machines, so there’s not those temptations.

Results from the study

“Our findings are a worry because, in the short term, busy students need all the help they can get to boost their immune systems to avoid even simple things like colds and stress, and in the long term because what they eat now determines how their bodies deal with disease and change over time,” researcher Melinda Hutchesson said.

While women, and students in a health and science related discipline did better than others, all students need to make an effort to meet the target of a couple of pieces of fruit and five serves of vegetables a day, where a serve is one cup of salad or a half a cup of cooked vegetables. 

“Eating healthy foods is a lot cheaper than many students think. For example, apples are 60c per 100 grams compared to a chocolate bar which is around $4.30 for the same amount. Healthy eating makes sense,” Dr Hutchesson said.

She said not knowing how to cook is a big barrier to healthy eating.

“Have some simple recipes on hand, that don’t take long to prepare, and are full of vegetables. Stir-fry and pasta dishes are easy to put together and a great way to boost vegetable intake,” said Dr Hutchesson.

She also calls on universities to play a role.

“There needs to be healthier options on campus in shops and vending machines, with pricing so students can afford them. Universities can also support students from health faculties to run health-focussed activities for all students,” said Dr Hutchesson.


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