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Dietary supplement use among dietetics students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal

Lynelda Pillay
Kirthee Pillay


Background: A dietary supplement is a product that aims to add nutritional value to the diet. University students are known to make use of dietary  supplements to improve their academic performance, increase energy levels and promote overall general health. Based on assumption, students studying towards a nutrition-related degree may eat healthily and choose not to use dietary supplements. Alternatively, because of their interest in and exposure to nutrition, they may decide to use dietary supplements. However, there is a lack of published studies investigating the prevalence of dietary supplement use and reasons for use among South African university students studying towards a nutrition-related degree.
Aim: The aim of this study was to assess the use of dietary supplements by dietetics students.
Setting: University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).
Methods: A cross-sectional, descriptive study was conducted using a self-administered questionnaire.
Results: Of the 139 participants, 23% (n = 32) used dietary supplements. There was a greater use by female students, those who lived at home and those registered for the Postgraduate Diploma in Dietetics. Reasons for using dietary supplements included the following: to strengthen the immune system (62.5%), to improve energy levels (56.3%) and to enhance physical health (50%). Cost (32.7%; n = 35), an adequate diet (22.4%; n = 24) and not necessary or waste of money (15%; n = 16) were reasons for not using dietary supplements. Most students (84.4%) made use of a multivitamin and mineral supplement.
Conclusion: There was a low prevalence of dietary supplement use by UKZN dietetics students, with the high cost of supplements given as the main reason for non-use.

Keywords: Dietary Supplements; Dietetics Students; UKZN; University Students.