May 17, 2021

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College students lead busy lives, thanks to classes, work, and a social life. So, how much time do they have to focus on their diet and nutrition? Are college students eating right and taking good care of their bodies? 

It turns out that many students in colleges and universities aren’t eating as well as they should, often consuming unhealthy food that’s processed or high in fat, while forgoing nutritious fruits and veggies. And these poor eating habits might have an impact on students’ overall health, as well as their energy and ability to focus.1   

To shed more light on this topic, we’ve compiled some interesting college student diet stats, and you can find them below. 

Many College Students Rely on Fast Food and Other Unhealthy Options

 Fast food is affordable and easy to get, as these types of restaurants are just about everywhere. And when a college student has a full schedule or lacks the energy to prepare fresh meals at home or in their dorm, they might decide to just grab some fast food to satisfy their appetite. 

  • College students tend to have fast food anywhere from one to three times each week, on average.1
  • A study found that eating fast food might have a negative impact on grades. Students who ate fast food a minimum of seven times in the past week had a lower GPA compared to those who ate it fewer than four times or who didn’t eat it at all.4
  •  In 2019, experts found that 47% of college students visited restaurants located off-campus more often during the weekend.5
  •  Even though fast food isn’t the healthiest option, 26% of students surveyed in 2019 said they would consider buying a meal plan if it was accepted by more fast food restaurants.5

Some College Students Aren’t Eating Enough Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are a key component to a healthy diet that can support overall health. Unfortunately, many college students don’t make it a point to add these foods to their daily diet. This means they might be missing out on important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. However, other students appear to take their diet much more seriously. 

  • Experts have found that the majority of adults between the ages of 20 and 29 eat less than one serving per day of fruits and vegetables.1  
  • In 2014, it was reported that a whopping 95% of college students weren’t eating the recommended number of daily servings (five or more) of fruits and veggies.7
  • When it comes to foods that students avoided for reasons like ethics, religion, or allergies, the most common were pork, shellfish, beef, wheat/gluten, and tree nuts in 2019.6   

Gaining Weight Is a Common Problem

Weight problems can affect people of all ages. And even though some college students might be active, these young adults might also end up gaining a few pounds while they are focusing on completing their studies and getting a degree. 

  • College students tend to gain weight (on average, 1.5 to 6.8 pounds) within the first three to four months of school.1
  • According to NYU, roughly 24% of their students were classified as overweight.1
  • Late-night snacking is a habit that might lead to weight gain. In 2019, 18% of college students said they were more likely to buy snacks late at night on campus. On the other hand, 60% of them said they were more likely to buy those snacks off-campus.5

Some Students Struggle with Affording Food

Sometimes, a college student’s poor diet isn’t because they don’t care about eating right. For many, it is a matter of being unable to afford good quality food every day. Here are some stats to help shed some light on this problem. 

  • A survey discovered that 36% of college students in the United States are food insecure, which means they aren’t able to eat enough.2  
  • Experts found that 42% of students attending community college were food insecure, while 14% of those attending private four-year colleges were food insecure.2
  • While 40% of four-year college students have trouble affording healthy meals, 46% of those attending community college experience this problem.2
  • When students have trouble affording food, it might cause their grades to fall. A study discovered that these students have greater odds of maintaining a grade point average (GPA) that’s below a B.2

How College Students Buy Their Food May Have an Impact on Their Choices

Believe it or not, how a student goes about selecting and paying for their meals might have an effect on how well they eat. Here are some stats to show you what we mean. 

  • When students use cash rather than a debit card to pay for their meals, they tend to make healthier choices.3
  • Compared to those who use cash or a restricted debit card, college students who use a debit card without any restrictions tend to consume a higher number of calories.3
  • When college cafeterias don’t allow students to use trays, students tend to reduce the amount of food they eat.3
  • If students are able to see food while they’re on a line in a cafeteria, they tend to make healthier selections than those who choose their meals after reading a menu board.3
  • In 2019, 33% of students were happy with the food service provided by their college. However, it was also found that 69% of college students ate off-campus at least once a week.6

Overall, colleges and universities should take steps to ensure students have access to affordable, healthy meals. But students themselves also need to realize the importance of eating right every day. 

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