Many students undergo a significant change in diet and lifestyle upon entering the university. Among these changes include excessive drinking, close contact with a large number of people, and late nights. Many health experts accuse these changes in the lifestyle of causing short-term treatable illnesses while the changes in diet have been reported to have both short and long-term effects on student’s health.
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This research seeks to establish the underlying relationship between the changes in student’s diet and the decision making and the influences that underpin this. In this study, both qualitative and quantitative research designs will be used, where interviews, questionnaires, and case studies will be used as the main data collection tools.
Research contacted by various scholars has indicated that many students undergo several changes during their stay at the university. Some of the changes associated with university life include; excessive drinking, exposure to varied groups of people from different social and economic backgrounds, and changes in the time for sleep. For example, research has indicated that many university students use a good part of the night either entertaining themselves or socializing with fellow students.
As a result, therefore, the students will return to bed late in the night. These changes in the lifestyle of students during their stay in the university have been reported to have both short-term and long-term effects on both the health and social life of students.
This research focuses on the changes in student’s diet investigating the decision making and the influences that lead to this. The research draws its evidence from interviews contacted with eight no marketing students. It employs the techniques of group discussion which includes the elements of both qualitative and quantitative experimentation.
Basing its argument on the evidence gotten from individual research and other sources such as case studies, government publications, and health authority journals, the report will develop a market social marketing strategy to address the problem. The research specifically focuses on developing a localized plan to address students throughout England and Wales. It will make use of behavioral change theories and models to give an evidence based approach to the problem. It will go further and provide a range of tools for implementation of n intervention.
According to the health policy agenda in the UK, the promotion of healthy eating is highly recommended. However, several types of research have indicated that young people especially those in the university are more prone to poor eating habits. This discovery is very worrying given the fact that young people are an important group in society.
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Establishing poor eating habits in young people means that the ill practice will be carried over to adulthood. This is a potential cause of cardiovascular and other health-related illnesses later in life. Based on this fact, this research will focus on the changing lifestyle and dietary trends among university students across the UK and Wales. It will propose some policies that need to be put into practice to develop and implement effective interventions for and with young people. The research aims at providing a summary of evidence that can be used to develop, implement, and evaluate the possible innervations to promote healthy eating amongst university students.
Dietary trends in the university
Research into student’s eating habits has indicated that men are more likely to eat foods highly rich in proteins. This has been attributed to the need for male students to improve their body sizes. For instance, it has been discovered that fish and chips are among the fast foods preferred by male students. According to Dr. Ricardo Costa, male university students are prone to “disordered eating patterns”.
Hertfordshire confesses that the many obesity cases in the UK have been brought by poor dietary habits of children and adults. However, he is much categorical that the diet of many people changes immediately they enter the university. He gives this as his own experience and that of the majority of his colleagues to justify that living a student’s life will greatly affect the dietary habits of a person.
Dr. Costa, claims that male scholars are more centered on their physique not just to meet their sporting requirements but also to appear good for women. This is the current trend in the university and has influence significantly on the dieting of a university student. Instead of achieving masculine bodies through a balanced diet and exercise, Costa reports that university students are resulting in disordered eating. The scholars are said to be using a good quantity of their financial resources on dietary complements such as protein, amino acids as well as a cretin. Their diet is characterized by high proteins, low-fat meat, and eggs without the yolk. Research conducted at the University of Aston indicated that most of the students were not keen on consuming fruits and vegetables. Some students confessed that they only ate fruits for convenience.
In the UK, parent’s income has nothing to do with the dietary choice of their children in the university. This is because the university is a level playing ground allowing students from any social background to decide on what to feed on. The education of parents did not influence the student’s dietary. Apart from eating an unbalanced diet, a study including 8 undergraduate students from the UK found that three-quarters of them never took breakfast. This habit of skipping breakfast has been associated with increased risks of obesity among university students, especially to female students. Many university students in the UK use vending machines and are fond of snacking on chocolate bars and crisps. This may be reasons contributing to their habitual skipping of meals.
Disordered eating habits by university students can serious health problems especially when continued for a long period. Costa cautions that these pitiable eating inclinations will make the liver and kidney of the scholars fail in their functions which involves breaking down the surplus of protein. This may eventually lead to liver and kidney failure. Furthermore, the bodies of the students may suffer from a lack of good-quality fats, leading to cardiac problems.
In addition to these physical problems, students who engage themselves in poor eating habits to gain masculine bodies are at risk of suffering from mental disorders. This will arise if the student fails to achieve their set goals. The student may start seeing themselves as inadequate and failures. They may as a result not interact well with others especially the ladies. Students who engage in alcoholism may have problems socializing with people in the long run. For instance, they may ignore their responsibilities and end up wrecking their life and that of their families.
Many university students have been discovered to have very low cooking skills. This has been associated with the availability of ready foods and takeaways in the university. The research still indicates that female students are better than male students in cooking and planning on their diet. Male students were discovered to have the highest possibility of relying on ready meals with a very low percentage of them consuming the five-a-day fruit and vegetables as recommended by health professionals.
Research contacted by Costa to investigate the drinking rates of university students indicated that drinking rates in the university were higher than recommended by the government. According to Costa, the scholars went out once or twice per week and subsequently drank between either one or fifteen units at a distinct sitting. This was against the government’s regulations, which recommends no more than two to four units for the males and two to three for the females. Unlike in France and Spain, students in the UK were unlikely to drink with a meal.
Current research indicates that social drinking is becoming common among undergraduates. This has been attributed to peer group influence within the university environment. Many undergraduates are aware of the short term effects of consuming alcohol but do not consider the long term effects. As a result of this, a high percentage of undergraduates are becoming careless about their daily responsibilities as students. They have always had quarrels with their instructors over late submission of assignments or even not attending classes in time.
Factor in Dietary Change
Changing from a home environment to the university one has been identified as a major factor influencing the change in lifestyle and dietary of university students. Studies have linked the change in lifestyle and dieting to the new responsibilities assumed by the youth as they shift from the home environment to that of the university. These responsibilities include meal planning and preparation and this has proved to be quite challenging for students who are doing it for the first time.
This discovery has been supported by the observation that students who commute from their homes to the university usually maintain a healthier dieting lifestyle compared to students living in the university environment. Results from a study conducted in five universities in the UK indicated that cooking skills were limited to undergraduates. Only the mature students proved to be competent in cooking and planning for their meals.
Results from the case study also indicated that family background and the education of parents did not affect the dieting of university students. Arnot (2010) indicates that the lifestyle adopted by students in the university is only a phase that students come out of naturally.
Babbie (2010) also suggested that the change in dieting habits among university students was due to the student’s transition from adolescence to adulthood. With this assertion, dietary change may be seen as consistent across all young people and not limited to undergraduates only. However, the stress caused by the transition from the home or secondary school environment and the exposure to people from different backgrounds holding different opinions concerning dieting makes the situation more complex for undergraduates. Peer pressure and its effects should also be put into consideration when discoursing about a lifestyle change among university students (Arnot, 2010).
Barriers and Facilitators to Healthy Eating
A systematic analysis of researches conducted by Adriaanse (2009) found that the main inhibitors of healthy eating include the availability of healthy foods, their prices, and personal preference. Going by this research analysis, many university students have a high preference for fast foods irrespective of whether the foods are healthy or not. Given the fact that university students have the responsibility of selecting their meals, it is evident that a combination of barriers contributes to unhealthy eating among university students. For instance, research conducted by Adriaanse (2009) suggested that while university males were motivated by media images and the need to look good for ladies, this did not contribute to their healthy eating (Adriaanse, 2009).
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Instead, it increased their disordered eating with a majority of them increasing their use of supplements such as protein powder and amino acids. The need to look good also led to the consumption of protein-rich foods at the expense of fruits and vegetables by university students. Although the family background and the education levels of parents proved to not influence the choice of die by university students, availability and cost may be important factors.
The systematic review by (Papadaki, A. et al , 2007) indicated that support from parents and friends, interest, and desire to maintain a certain appearance and cooking skills were important factors contributing to eating habits in the university. The age of the student was also identified as an important factor contributing to the choice of meals among university students.
A review of the literature above demonstrates that extensive research has been carried out to establish the cause of eating disorders among undergraduates in the UK and Wales. However, this information is limited to only a few factors, giving room for further research to arrive at a good understanding of the underlying factor influencing the change of behavior among university students. This information is however crucial if effective interventions in the change of lifestyle among University students are to be disseminated.
This research aimed to investigate the factors influencing the decision-making process which underpin the decision of university students about lifestyle change. This also includes the factors that influence the dieting of the undergraduates. This research can be used alongside other publications to come up with a social marketing strategy to improve healthy eating habits among undergraduates in the UK and Wales. His research is significant to both local and national levels.
A total of eight non-marketing students from Aston University were recruited to take part in the research. A random sampling method was applied during the recruitment of participants in the research. Non-business students were picked randomly to participate in the research. A sample of four male students and four female students was obtained to ensure gender balance. All current non-business undergraduate students had equal chances of being selected to participate in the study. Given the large population of students in the university, it was difficult to identify every member of the population. This means that the pool of the subjects available was biased (Babbie, 2010).
This method may therefore not produce a true representation of the population. It may also be not wise to generalize the results obtained to the larger population. However, this proved to be the most effective sampling method given the scarcity of resources and the limited duration of time provided to complete the research. The exclusion of business students from participating in the study would also indicate some elements of biases in the study.
Focus Group Methods
Focus groups are most helpful when one wants to expand knowledge about customers and prospects. Focus groups were therefore used for the collection of data from the study samples. In this field of marketing, the use of focus groups was inevitable because they give an understanding of the impacts of the marketing stimuli. In this study, focus groups were particularly useful because they allowed for an integrated analysis of the relationship between the factors influencing the change in lifestyle and their reactions to marketing material (Capacci, et al, 2011).
The focus group was planned for a four –hour session under the moderation of a supervisor. The sessions were video recorded for future references. This would also allow for further analysis of the interviews in the future. The respondents were assured of the confidentiality of their responses and they were alerted before any recording was done. The participants were educated first on the aims and objectives of the study and were given opportunities to seek any clarification. They were welcomed to ask any questions concerning the research before they were asked to give their consent for participation (Croezen, 2009).
To familiarize themselves with the participants, the focus group began by introducing themselves by asking short questions (Dodd, L.J. et al, 2010). After the introduction, the focus group then proceeded to the topic of interest: change in student’s diet and potential influences. The focus group used guided questions that were prepared to guide the respondents to give the most relevant information. The focus group questions included:
- What is your favorite meal?
- How many meals do you take in a day?
- What type of food do you prefer to eat the most?
- Do you eat any snacks? What type of snacks do you eat most?
- Are you aware of anything that influences your daily eating habits?
- Is your eating habit uniform across the week or do you eat differently on different days of the week?
- Are you comfortable with planning for and cooking your food?
- Is there any difference between the way you eat now and how you used to eat before joining the university?
- Are you concerned about how you eat?
- Do you think there is any relationship between how you eat and your health?
- Does your physical posture influence your eating?
- What influences you in selecting what you want to eat?
- Are healthy foods readily available and affordable for you to purchase?
- Does your family background affect the way you eat at university?
An analysis of the results from the focus group indicated that all the students interviewed experienced a significant change in their dieting upon entering the university. Although there were variations in daily variations in the eating patterns of the participants, it was evident that al ea a less balanced diet since leaving home. It came out clearly that regular meals were eaten less often. For instance, six out of the eight participants interviewed reported that they skipped breakfast regularly. Al the participants reported that they eat regular meals based on convenience rather than at regular times in a day.
All the participants agreed that their eating patterns differed across the week. They all admitted that they followed more regular eating patens during the weekends. All the participants reported that they engaged themselves in excessive consumption of alcohol and snacking over the weekends. Most participants reported that they relied on takeaways during the weekends. The participants generally agreed that there was a considerable difference in their dieting when at home and the university. They all agreed that they returned to healthier eating when they return home during the weekend and on the holidays.
The types of food preferred varied widely across the participants. While some participants reported a liking for fruits and vegetables, others confessed that they consumed fruits and vegetables only when they came across them. Five of the participants reported that they consumed six portions of fruits and vegetables per day while the remaining three respondents reported consuming only two portions in a day. Six of the participants reported that they ate convenience foods and takeaways regularly and it was discovered that these were usually calorie-dense high-fat foods.
All participants admitted that they ate snacks regularly as a supplementary to regular meals. They also reported that they ate snacks mostly whenever they skipped breakfast. Two of the participants reported that they thought snacking on fruits, nuts and seeds was healthier than snacking on chocolate bars and crisps. The small sample size and the procedure selected however limited us from determining whether the differences in dieting could have been caused by the characteristics of the participants such as gender and age (Health Canada 2004).
The focus group identified several factors that influenced food choice among the participants. A common factor reported by all the participants was convenience. The meals to be consumed were largely depended on the time required to prepare such a meal. Accessibility of the healthy foods which could be purchased and eaten within the university environment also came out as a major factor. Five of the participants admitted that their choice of food was largely influenced by its cost.
Three of the four male participants reported that their low levels of cooking ability contributed to their healthy eating. Although the rest of our participants were competed in cooking, convenience, cost and preference were major barriers to eating healthy foods. Seven participants agreed that they enjoyed fast foods and three of them reported that they preferred unhealthy foods to healthy ones. Despite this preference, three participants reported that were trying to limit the rate at which they were consuming fast foods. They reported that they were aware of the dangers associated with relying much on fast foods.
The focus group discovered that the food choice of a majority of the participants was not influenced by their health concerns. Although all the participants acknowledged that they were aware that their dieting could affect their health, they valued other factors such as convenience and cost. Four of the participants agreed that maintaining their physical looks influenced their dietary choices.
Social marketing strategy design
This is the application of marketing techniques using communication and delivery to influence behavioral change. It follows a sequential planning process which includes market research and analysis, setting objectives, and coming up with appropriate strategies to meet these goals (HM Government, 2010). This strategy has been utilized in the literature review and focus group discoursed above. The remaining components of this strategy discourse below.
This is usually performed according to geographical or demographical distinctions. However, this study could not be segmented geographically due to the limitations of the available information. It was also unclear whether there were differences in the attendance of the university. Based on the fact that this research was contacted in only one university, the demographics of the students could also be largely shared. From the literature review, the social background had no influence over the dieting habits within the subpopulation sampled. There is also limited evidence of any difference between genders (Jaime. et al ,2009).
A better way of segmenting this subpopulation would be based on psychographic characteristics. In this respect, the market is segmented according to shared knowledge, attitudes, and believes about changing lifestyles. This may be guided by the stages of change model proposed by Prochaska and DiClemente. According to this model, any behavior change is assumed to occur in six steps. These steps include pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and termination stages (James, 2008).
According to (Papadaki, A. et al 2007), those in the pre-contemplation stage have no problem with their behavior. A market campaign strategy can therefore target this segment of the subpopulation to increase their knowledge. However, increasing knowledge may not significantly improve dieting habits because of the many factors influencing its choice. Instead of teaching people the importance of eating more fresh foods, additional practical information should be incorporated into the campaigns (Kolodinsky, J.et al 2007).
Campaigns such as the 5 A Day campaign which encourages eating more fruits and vegetables should be put in place. Unlike in the first stage, those in the contemplative stage are aware that they need to change although they may not be willing to. Targeting a market campaign on this group may yield very minimal results (Lake, A.A.et al 2009).
On reaching the action stage, individuals start making and maintaining changes in their lifestyles. This trend continues up to the terminal stage (Litosseliti, L. 2003). A market campaign strategy would be most effective if set to target individuals in the preparation stage. This is because individuals in this group are willing to change, but may not know how to initiate such changes. The market strategy here should be aimed at improving knowledge as well as providing effective ways in which the behavior change can be effected.
The objective of this strategy is to improve the dieting behavior of undergraduates across the UK and Wales. This has been evidenced by the information generated by the focus group alongside that from other documented research. Campaigns such as the 5 A Day have been put in place as strategies for improving the diet of undergraduates (Noar, S.M. 2006). The major challenge facing undergraduates according to the focused study is on choosing unhealthy foods and skipping meals due to convenience and cost. This should therefore be the main target of the market campaigns. From this realization, two objectives can be drawn:
- To reduce the number of undergraduates practicing disordered eating patterns.
- To increase awareness within the undergraduates on the risk of over-relying on takeaways and other junk foods.
To achieve the above objectives nationally, a strategy involving two branches can be put in place. In this regard, the first branch of the strategy would be the establishment of an educational campaign targeting the segments of the market discussed above. The education should be specifically designed to provide practical information to assist the undergraduates to adopt healthy eating habits. Providing undergraduates with specific information that is directly relevant to their lifestyle can bear positive fruits (Papadaki et al 2007). An example of such information is the 5 A Day initiative.
Running these campaigns through national media will increase the knowledge of university students and result in to change in their behavior (Tomlin et al 2004). Previous studies have shown that online and media campaigns are the most effective when targeting university students. Mounting these campaigns using Twitter and Facebook can reach a significant number of students across the UK and Wales.
The campaigns may also offer information on how to choose healthier snacks at the minimum cost. It may also offer tips on how to prepare such snakes at home to cut down on cost (Serlachius, A. et al, 2007). The undergraduates should be fed with information related to convenience and cost-effectiveness that will help them change their snacking behavior.
The second branch of the campaign should target government authorities. These campaigns should push the government to implement regulations on the type of food offered to university students. However, this can only be possible where food is offered by the university authorities. With only healthy foods being provided by the university, the undergraduates will have no option but to eat healthy foods.
Piloting a local project at the University of Aston to provide food preparation workshops can help change the dieting of undergraduates. This strategy has been arrived at from the observation that most of the students who participated in the focused study faced challenges in planning and preparing their meals. During the workshop, the undergraduates can be educated on how to prepare healthy food in the cheapest ways possible. Students can also be advised on where to eat while in the university environment. This will address the issue of the availability of healthy foods to the undergraduates (Papadaki A. et al 2007).
From the above report, it is evident that students change their lifestyle including their dieting behaviors upon entering the university. Many scholars attribute his change in lifestyle with the transition from childhood o adulthood. However, the change in dieting has been greatly influencing by cost and convenience alongside other factors. Disordered eating habits have proved to be a major cause of various diseases to the students.
Targeting students who are willing to change their diet, giving them specific information on how to prepare healthy foods will help solve the problem of cost and convenience thereby improving the dieting behavior of undergraduates.
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