Moving to a new environment, as many college freshmen do, can increase feelings of loneliness, and feelings of loneliness in college students have increased dramatically in 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, meaning either in the overweight or obese category. Although loneliness is associated with unhealthy weight and physical inactivity, there is a lack of research on dietary behaviors in college students and the role they may play in obesity in college students.
With data from the Mason: Health Starts Here cohort study, Master of Nutrition alum Li Jiang found that loneliness is associated with altered diet quality and physical inactivity. The research was conducted as part of Jiang’s master’s thesis, and Mason Chair of Nutrition and Food Studies Lawrence J. Cheskin, Associate Professor Lillian de Jonge, former faculty member Kara Frankenfeld, and former postdoctoral fellow Xiaul H. Rana also contributed to the project.
“Our study supports the potential need for more research into understanding unhealthy eating behavior and physical activity that may be associated with loneliness, a feeling that affects many college students,” says Jiang.
Sedentary (19.2%) and low-activity (53.8%) behaviors were more common in students who reported high loneliness (ranges of 4-6 and 7-9) than those who reported low loneliness (score 10-12). Students who reported feeling lonely had a diet higher in fat than students who reported feeling less lonely.
“Interventions to reduce loneliness may have a positive health-promoting effect in this population,” said Cheskin. “This data is consistent with other preliminary findings reported in the Health Starts Here study that college students do not adhere to healthy dietary guidelines or get enough physical activity.” . who has MD.
The study is a cross-sectional study that analyzed baseline data collected in the first wave of Mason: Health Start Here in 2019, funded by the George Mason University Institute for Biohealth Innovation.
“Loneliness is associated with unhealthy dietary behaviors and physical inactivity among US college students,” published November 2022 in Journal of the American College of Health.
Mason: Health Starts Here is the first multidisciplinary student cohort study to understand and improve the health and well-being of college students. This research will follow a broad sample of young adults, specifically Mason students, over time to capture the diversity of their experiences in college and how it affects their health and well-being.