Moving to a new environment, as many college freshman do, can increase feelings of loneliness, and feelings of loneliness among college students have increased dramatically over the past decade, according to the National College Health Assessment. Additionally, a 2021 survey reported that 44% of US college students described their weight as more than normal, ie in the overweight or obese category. Although loneliness is associated with unhealthy weight and physical inactivity, there is a lack of research on dietary behavior in college students and its potential role in obesity in college students.
Using data from the cohort study Mason: Health Starts Here, Master of Nutrition alum Li Jiang found that loneliness was associated with the quality of dietary change and physical inactivity. The research was conducted as part of Jiang’s master’s thesis, and Mason Department of Nutrition and Food Studies Chair Lawrence J. Cheskin, Associate Professor Lilian de Jonge, former faculty member Cara Frankenfeld, and former postdoctoral fellow Ziaul H. Rana also contributed to the project.
“Our study supports a potential need for more research to understand unhealthy dietary behaviors and physical activity that may be associated with loneliness, an emotion that affects many college students,” Jiang says. .
Inactive behaviors (19.2%) and low active behaviors (53.8%) were more frequent among students who reported high loneliness (score range 4-6 and 7-9) than those who reported low loneliness (score 10-12). Students who reported more loneliness had higher fat diets than students who reported less loneliness.
“Interventions to reduce loneliness may have a positive impact on health promotion in this population. These data align with other initial findings from the Health Starts Here study that college students are not meeting healthy dietary guidelines or getting enough physical activity,” said Cheskin, who has an MD.
The study is a cross-sectional study that analyzed baseline data collected in the first wave of Mason: Health Start Here in 2019, and was funded by George Mason University’s Institute for BioHealth Innovation.
“Loneliness is associated with unhealthy dietary behaviors and physical inactivity among college students in the United States,” was published in November 2022. American College of Health Journal.
Mason: Health Start This is a first-of-its-kind cross-disciplinary student study to understand and improve the health and well-being of university students. This research will follow a broad sample of young adults, particularly Mason students, over time to demonstrate the diversity of their college experiences and how it affects their health and well-being.