Nutrition & Academic Achievement

Background

Literature review

Available literature on the nutritional status of students has revealed that college and university students embrace standards of living that either negatively or positively impact on their health and nutrition (Monneuse et al 1997). A study conducted by Jaworowska and Bazylak (2007) showed that the diet of most university and college students is subjected to various factors. In fact, factors such as students’ knowledge on health and nutrition as well as their residential backgrounds might alter nutritional habits. Hence, these may impact on their academic achievement and performance. Baric et al (2003) refuted this assertion in their longitudinal research study. Their research findings indicated that students’ knowledge regarding health and nutrition hardly determines their desired eating patterns or habits.

A strand of existing literature (e.g., Monneuse 1997; El-Ansari et al 2007Kremmyda et al 2008) demonstrates that college and university students practice personal eating habits, and this may have adverse health outcomes. Chen et al (2007) supports this claim by asserting that bad nutritional habits are detrimental and may affect students’ performance and achievement. Moreover, Krinke (2002) affirms that bad nutrition or poor food consumption patterns bear allied health and performance risks. According to Brevard and Ricketts (1996), changes in the students’ lifestyles significantly affect their nutrition and health patterns. These changes in turn impact on their academic performance and achievement. However, a cross-sectional study conducted by Farghaly et al (2007) demonstrates that boarding college students are minimally affected by the consumption of whole fatty foods and heavy carbohydrates.

Research Questions & Hypotheses

Research questions

The researcher aims to assess the effect of good nutrition on students’ performance and achievement in school. Students’ nutritional behaviors’ as well as factors which influence food consumption will be evaluated using a validated questionnaire instrument.

The key research question will be “What is the effect of good nutrition on students’ performance or achievement in school? However, at the end of this study, answers to the following sub-questions will have been obtained:

  • What clearly determines the nutritional patterns of university students?
  • Do good nutritional patterns affect students’ achievement and performance in school?

Hypotheses

The researcher intends to test the following research hypotheses:

  • H1: Good nutrition affects students’ performance or achievement in school, and;
  • H0: Good nutrition does not affect students’ performance or achievement in school.

Research Methods and techniques

Study Design

A quantitative study will be carried out using the cross-sectional study design in order to determine the importance of proper nutrition in the overall academic performance of students in school (Miere et al 2007). The health belief (nutritional) model will be applied to guide this survey and more importantly to understand the way food intake influences the participants’ performance.

The cross-sectional study design is selected because it’s feasible, efficient and economical to a study of this scope (Kolodinsky et al 2007). Another advantage of this kind of study design is that the data gathered can easily be analyzed more quickly and it also provides the needed characteristics of the research population (Panagiotakos et al 2007). Moreover, the conclusion drawn will be more reliable and valid since data from the study design is more accurate (Irazusta et al 2006). Nevertheless, this technique only study the sample from the entire population hence the conclusion drawn will be more generalized (Young & Fors 2001).

Participants and sampling

In this survey, all students are deemed eligible to participate in the research. However, the sample for the survey will be drawn from students in Flinders University. The sample will comprise 30 students of either gender but currently studying at the university. For inclusion into the study, participants must be aged between 18 and 40 years.

The researcher will use convenience sampling techniques to come up with the required sample of participants. This sampling method is chosen given its advantage of being relatively cheap compared to other sampling methods. The convenience sampling technique helps in minimizing time and cost constraints. Furthermore, convenience samples offer accurate correlations and rich qualitative data (Schweyer & Le-Corre 1994). Despite the advantages of convenience sampling method, the technique hardly produces representative results and the generated samples are very hard to replicate (Osler & Heitmann 1996).

Data collection

Data for this study will largely be collected from primary sources (Roddam et al 2005). The most important and relevant statistics will be gathered via self-administered questionnaires. The assumption is that a comprehensive explorative instrument has been developed and satisfactorily tested prior to embarking on this actual research study (Von-Bothmer & Fridlund 2005; Whiteman & Key 2005). Therefore, 30 self-administered questionnaires that examine the effect of nutrition on students’ performance will be used.

The questionnaire will take the students roughly between 16 and 20 minutes to complete. The questionnaires have been developed based on the contained elements and focus on the perceived benefits, barriers, susceptibility as well as the effectiveness of nutrition on students’ health and performance. The questionnaire also examines other factors that influence the nutritional habits of university students.

Ethical Consideration

Before conducting this research study, the requirements for the university social and behavioral research ethics committee will be completed. In addition, study participants will be provided with information concerning their freedom of participation based on the stated standards. The institution will also provide a letter of introduction specifying and explaining the study and the required standard methods.

In the letter, there will be secrecy assurance for the information provided according to the strict confidential requirements stipulated by the Quantitative Research Methods for Social Research coordinating team from the university. Moreover, an information sheet describing the study and the way the participants will be required to behave will be provided. The participants will be made aware that they can withdraw their involvement at any time and without consequences. However, strict measures will be put in place during and after the study to protect the respondents from any harmful effects (Bas et al 2005). Finally, the information acquired from the study participants will be securely stored and protected whereas study finding reports will not divulge the participants’ identification (Kafatos et al 2000).

Descriptive Statistics & Preliminary Results

Thirty (30) respondents took part in the survey aimed at determining the significance or importance of proper nutrition in the overall academic performance of students at Flinders University. The results for the study are detailed below in two sections – demographic characteristics and main findings.

Demographic Characteristics

11(36.7%) of the participants were aged between 31 and 35 years old, while 7(23.3%) were in the 26-30 years age group. The rest of the participants were aged between 18 and 25 years. Almost three-quarters of the respondents (73.3%) were male. In marital status, half of the participants (50.0%) were married and slightly over a third (36.7%) reported they were single. The rest were either widows or widowers. 20(66.7) percent of the students were in their second year of study, while 5(16.7%) were in their first year. All participants were sampled from the student population at the University.

Main Findings

All participants were asked to respond to a multiplicity of statements that were meant to not only evaluate their knowledge on nutrition and health, but also their understanding on how nutrition affects academic achievement. A Lickert-type scale was used to measure and rank their responses, with 1 representing “strongly agree” while 5 represented “strongly disagree.” The descriptive statistics of the findings are shown in the table next page. The table demonstrates the values for mean and median scores, as well as their corresponding measures of dispersion (standard deviation and interquartile range).

Table1: Descriptive Statistics for Variables on Nutrition & Academic Achievement.

Variables (n=30) Mean Std. dev. Median Interquartile range
Eating nutritious food makes a person healthy 1.2000 0.48423 1.0000 2.00
Eating nutritious food makes a person mentally alert 1.3000 0.53498 1.0000 1.00
I perform better when I eat enough food before school 1.5000 0.82001 1.0000 1.00
My parents have a big influence on the food I eat 4.5333 0.50742 5.000 1.00
I have less control on the choice of food I eat 3.7000 1.20773 4.0000 2.00
I usually go for junk food rather than healthier food 3.4667 1.19578 4.0000 2.00
I usually drink milk/juice at breakfast rather than soda 2.9667 1.21721 3.0000 2.00
I wake up early to have enough time for breakfast 3.6667 0.95893 4.0000 1.00
My academic performance is greatly affected by the food I eat 2.5333 0.97320 3.0000 1.00
I feel more active, comfortable and mentally alert when I have eaten enough food 2.0333 0.71840 2.0000 0.00

An important observation that can be made from the above table is that many variables have a low standard deviation score (less than 1), implying that the data for these variables are normally distributed. Additionally, it can be demonstrated from the descriptive statistics that most participants either strongly agree or agree that: 1) eating nutritious food makes a person healthy, 2) eating nutritious food makes a person mentally alert, 3) students perform better in school when they eat healthy food, and 4) students academic performance is greatly affected by the food they eat. These observations prove the hypothesis that good nutrition affects students’ performance in school.

Only 8(26.7%) of the participants agreed they routinely ate fast foods, implying that most students are knowledgeable on the food choices they make. However, it is important to note that 43.3% of those who routinely ate fast foods used between AUS$11 and AUS$30 per week on the food. A significant number (13.3%) used in excess of AUS$50 per week on fast foods. Participants were asked the main reasons that made them to eat outside. The results are demonstrated in the figure below.

Reasons for Eating Out.
Table 1: Reasons for Eating Out.

The figure above demonstrates that many students may be eating unhealthy food simply because they cannot cook well. 18 (60%) of the participants said they always took a balanced diet, consisting of vegetables, meat and carbohydrates.

Reference List

Baric, CI, Satalic, Z, & Lukesic, Z 2003, ‘Nutritive value of meals, dietary habits and nutritive status in Croatian university students according to gender’, International Journal of Food Science Nutrition, vol. 54 no. 6, pp.473-484.

Bas, M, Altan, T, Dincer, D, Aran, E, Kaya, HG & Yuksek, O 2005, ‘Determination of dietary habits as a risk factor of cardiovascular heart disease in Turkish adolescents’, European Journal of Nutrition, vol.44 no.3, pp.174-182.

Brevard, PB & Ricketts, CD 1996, ‘Residence of college students affects dietary intake, physical activity, and serum lipid levels’, Journal of American Diet Association, vol.96 no.4, pp.35-38.

Chen, MY, James, K & Wang, EK 2007, ‘Comparison of health-promoting behavior between Taiwanese and American adolescents: a cross-sectional questionnaire survey’, International Journal of Nursing Studies, vol.44 no.5, pp.59-69.

El-Ansari, W, Maxwell, AE, Mikolajczyk, RT, Stock, C, Naydenova, V & Kramer, A 2007, ‘Promoting public health: benefits and challenges of a European wide research consortium on student health’, Central European Journal of Public Health, vol.15 no.6, p.58-65.

Farghaly, NF, Ghazali, BM, Al-Wabel, HM, Sadek, AA & Abbag, FI 2007, ‘Life style and nutrition and their impact on health of Saudi school students in Abha, Southwestern region of Saudi Arabia’, Saudi Medical Journal, vol. 28 no. 2, pp.415-421.

Irazusta, A, Gil, S, Ruiz, F, Gondra, J, Jauregi, A, Irazusta, J & Gil, J 2006, ‘Exercise, physical fitness, and dietary habits of first-year female nursing students’, Biological Research for Nursing, vol.7 no.2, pp.175-186.

Jaworowska, A, & Bazylak, G 2007, ‘Residential factors affecting nutrient intake and nutritional status of female pharmacy students in Bydgoszcz’, Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig, vol.58 no.1, pp.245-251.

Kafatos, A, Verhagen, H, Moschandreas, J, Apostolaki, I & Van-Westerop, JJ 2000, ‘Mediterranean diet of Crete: foods and nutrient content’, Journal of American Diet Association, vol.100 no.8, pp.1487-1493.

Kolodinsky, J, Harvey-Berino, JR, Berlin, L, Johnson, RK & Reynolds TW 2007, ‘Knowledge of current dietary guidelines and food choice by college students: better eaters have higher knowledge of dietary guidance’, Journal of American Diet Association, vol.107 no.12, pp.1409-1413.

Kremmyda, LS, Papadaki, A, Hondros, G, Kapsokefalou, M & Scott, JA 2008, ‘Differentiating between the effect of rapid dietary acculturation and the effect of living away from home for the first time, on the diets of Greek students studying in Glasgow’, Appetite,vol.50 no.2, pp.455-463.

Krinke, U 2002, Adult nutrition: in nutrition through the life cycle, Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, Belmont, CA.

Miere, D, Filip, L, Indrei, LL, Soriano, JM, Molto, JC & Manes, J 2007, “Nutritional assessment of the students from two European university centers”, Rev Med Chir Soc Med Nat Iasi, vol.111 no.6, pp.270-275.

Monneuse, MO, Bellisle, F, & Koppert, G 1997, “Eating habits, food and health related attitudes and beliefs reported by French students”, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol.51 no.2, pp.46-53.

Osler, M & Heitmann, BL 1996, ‘The validity of a short food frequency questionnaire and its ability to measure changes in food intake: a longitudinal study’, International Journal of Epidemiology, vol.25 no.4, pp.1023-1029.

Panagiotakos, D, Sitara, M, Pitsavos, C & Stefanadis, C 2007, ‘Estimating the 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease and its economic consequences, by the level of adherence to the Mediterranean diet: the ATTICA study’, Journal of Medicinal Food, vol.10 no.4, pp.239-243.

Roddam, AW, Spencer, E, Banks, E, Beral, V, Reeves, G, Appleby, P, Barnes, I, Whiteman, DC & Key, TJ 2005, ‘Reproducibility of a short semi-quantitative food group questionnaire and its performance in estimating nutrient intake compared with a 7-day diet diary in the Million Women Study’, Public Health Nutrition, vol.8 no.1, pp.201-213.

Schweyer, FX & Le Corre, N 1994, ‘L’alimentation au quotidien chez les e’tudiants’, Pre’venir, vol.26 no.6, pp.87-92.

Von-Bothmer, MI & Fridlund, B 2005, ‘Gender differences in health habits and in motivation for a healthy lifestyle among Swedish university students’, Nursing & Health Sciences, vol.7 no.1, pp.107-118.

Young, EM & Fors, SW 2001, ‘Factors related to the eating habits of students in grades 9–12’, Journal of School Health, vol.71 no.2, pp.483-488.

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