SAN BERNARDINO – With more than one-third of college students in the United States reportedly being overweight or obese, a study by a Cal State San Bernardino psychology professor found that online programs can change students’ views about healthy eating and exercise, along with their actual behavior.
Reported in the May 2012 issue of the Journal of American College Health, the study conducted by Robert G. LaChausse in the CSUSB Department of Health Science and Human Ecology found that college students who completed an Internet-based obesity prevention program (MyStudentBody.com) reported an increase in confidence to eat healthier and exercise, lower levels of stress, and increases in daily fruit and vegetable consumption.
The study, which was funded by the Anthem Blue Cross Foundation, comes as the obesity rate among college students and young adults in the United States has tripled in the last 10 years, with 35 percent of college students overweight or obese. In San Bernardino County, it is estimated that almost 40 percent of college students are overweight or obese.
Obesity among college students has been linked to many serious physical conditions, including several types of cancers, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, as well as emotional and social consequences, including depression, stigmatization and lower academic achievement. LaChausse’s study involved 220 college students who were randomly assigned to complete the MyStudentBody.com program, participate in a traditional college course on weight loss, or a control group over a 12-week period. MyStudentBody.com was developed by Inflexxion Inc., and is an interactive, Internet-based program designed to motivate students to make healthy decisions and provide students with personalized normative feedback on their health-related behaviors. Participants in the study completed surveys regarding eating and exercise behaviors, as well as other variables such as self-confidence, stress and sleep. Compared to students who participated in the regular college course or a control group, those students who completed the MyStudentBody.com program were more likely to report an increase in their confidence to eat healthy and an increase in daily fruit and vegetable consumption. However, changes in levels in physical activity did not change for students in any of the groups. LaChausse explains that it may be easier to affect factors related to nutritional behaviors than exercise behaviors.
“The psychology of changing eating and exercise behaviors among youth and young adults is complex,”
LaChausse said. “I think these findings reflect the fact that the MyStudentBody program places greater emphasis on aspects of healthy eating related to weight control rather than physical activity.”
The results of his study suggest that Internet-based prevention programs such as MyStudentBody.com can be effective in changing behavior, but may need to be supplemented with other interventions or activities to increase physical activity and ultimately keep young people from becoming overweight or obese.
“Most people know about the dangers of obesity, which foods are healthy and unhealthy, and the importance of exercise. However, this knowledge doesn’t really affect what we do on a daily basis,” LaChausse said. He suggests that additional programs and policies can be incorporated along with Internet-based programs like increasing opportunities for students to be physically active, rewarding students for exercising regularly and reducing the availability of junk food on college campuses. Read the complete study at “MyStudentBody: Effects of an Internet-Based Prevention Program to Decrease Obesity Among College Students” online at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07448481.2011.623333 in the Journal of American College Health.