Nutritional status of undergraduate healthcare students at the University of the Free State
Objectives: This study aimed to evaluate the lifestyle habits of South African students preparing for careers in health care that could influence the efficacy of their counselling practices on risk factors for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) as future healthcare professionals.
Design: Cross-sectional descriptive study.
Setting and subjects: One hundred and sixty-one students (median age 21.5 years, 75.8% women) enrolled in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Free State.
Outcome measures: Anthropometry was measured and structured questionnaires administered to assess dietary and lifestyle habits.
Results: Many students were at risk of NCDs, with 19.8% being overweight or obese (body mass index > 25 kg/m2), 11.8% had a waist circumferences above gender-specific cut-off points, 98.1% consumed < 3 servings of vegetables/day, 58.4% consumed < 2 servings of fruit/day, 83% consumed < 2 servings of dairy products/day, 60% did not eat a beta-carotenerich fruit or vegetable daily, 31% did not eat a vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable daily, 62% never consumed legumes, 43% reported a high intake of fats and sweets, 11% smoked a median of 3.5 cigarettes/day and 63% consumed a median of three drinks of alcohol/day on a median of four days (95% weekend days) per month. Fifty-nine per cent were active and 39% were very active owing to busy class schedules, but only 32% participated in formal exercise and sports.
Conclusion: The poor dietary and lifestyle habits of most participants highlight the need to not just educate, but better empower these students to deal with the growing public health problem of obesity and related NCDs in the country.
Keywords: students, healthcare professionals, diet, anthropometry, lifestyle