College is an exciting time, but it can also be a difficult one. With all the new classes, activities, and social events, it’s no surprise that college students often struggle to maintain a healthy diet.
Nevertheless, eating a healthy diet is essential. Not only does it help us stay physically fit and energized throughout the day, but it can also support our mental health.
But what does the average diet for college students look like? Let’s explore the stats.
How Does Diet Affect College Students?
Eating a balanced and healthy diet is incredibly important to college students.
Not only does it fuel the body in order to properly do everyday tasks, such as studying and going to classes, but it also has a substantial effect on mental health as well.
A nutritious diet can help with concentration by providing the needed energy each day, while consuming processed convenience foods may result in feeling sluggish or unmotivated. Plus, consuming a variety of foods can help keep cravings and potential food binges in check.
College life is stressful enough without dealing with an unhealthy diet – so students should strive to maintain a nourishing, balanced diet in order to stay physically and mentally fit while attending school.
College Student Diet Statistics – Highlights
- A study in 2020 reported that many first-year college students in Australia found that the transition from high school to college created great amounts of stress, leading to overeating, undereating, or poor food choices.
- 60% of college students are living with a diagnosed mental health condition like eating disorders.
- 36% of college students report that they don’t have enough to eat.
- The average cost of a college meal plan was $563 per month in 2021, costing around $5,000 per school year.
- The average college student will gain between 1.5 and 6.8 lbs during the first semester alone.
A 2020 study from Hope Center reported that more than 25% of students at two and four-year colleges were affected by food insecurity.
Source: Temple University
The fact that 25% of college students experience food insecurity is extremely concerning, as it suggests that an entire quarter of the population is unable to access basic nutrition on a regular basis.
This could be due to poverty or other socio-economic factors, but whatever the cause, it is clear that food insecurity is an issue that must be addressed on campus. Universities should work with student groups and other organizations to ensure that all students have access to healthy meals during their time in school.
A 2019 study from the University of California found that some students were satisfied with the quantity and variety of nutritious food options available on campus, but most felt there were not enough.
Source: PubMed Central
Even when college students have access to food, they often don’t find it nutritious enough for their needs.
This could be because universities are focused more on convenience than nutrition when providing meal options for their students – many schools offer fast food or processed snacks instead of fresh fruits and vegetables, for instance – or because there simply isn’t enough variety available in dining halls or cafeterias.
Colleges should make a greater effort to provide healthier options if they want their students to stay healthy while attending classes.
88% of college students consider social media usage to impact their body image and dietary habits in a negative way.
This could be because so many posts focus on unrealistic beauty standards or unrealistic dieting advice; however, this also speaks to how powerful social media can be in shaping public opinion and influencing behavior – both positively and negatively – among young people.
Students should make sure they are following accounts with positive messages about health and wellness if they want to avoid the pitfalls associated with some online content related to dieting and body image.
The average college student eats less than one serving of fruit or vegetables per day.
This lack of nutrient-rich food makes it harder for students to maintain their energy levels throughout the day, as well as putting them at risk for long-term health problems like diabetes and heart disease.
A study in 2020 reported that many first-year college students in Australia found that the transition from high school to college created great amounts of stress, leading to overeating, undereating, or poor food choices.
Many first-year college students in Australia reported feeling overwhelmed by the move away from home and all of the changes that come with being on their own for the first time.
This increase in stress can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms like overeating, undereating, or making poor food choices due to lack of knowledge or access to healthier options.
That’s why it’s important for students to take the time to learn about nutrition and practice mindful eating when they head off to school.
60% of college students are living with diagnosed mental health conditions like eating disorders.
The statistic that 60% of college students are living with diagnosed mental health conditions such as eating disorders is concerning, but not surprising given the stresses that come with this life stage.
Making sure you have support systems in place—whether through friends or family members, or mental health professionals—is essential for managing mental health issues during college years.
It’s also important for students who are struggling with their mental health to reach out for help if needed. There are plenty of resources available on campus (and online) which provide support and guidance throughout this difficult period in life.
36% of college students report that they don’t have enough to eat.
Source: Temple University
This shocking statistic shows just how widespread food insecurity is among college students due to the high cost of living and often inadequate meal plans offered by universities.
College students who eat breakfast at least five days a week tend to have higher GPAs and test scores than those who eat breakfast less than three times per week.
It’s easy to see why breakfast provides such a boost – this first meal of the day provides essential energy and nutrients needed for focus during the day, as well as improved cognitive performance.
If you’re looking for an edge in your studies, making sure you have time for breakfast should be at the top of your list!
The average cost of a college meal plan was $563 per month in 2021, costing around $5,000 per school year.
Source: Education Data Initiative
This can be a steep cost for many students and their families, leading some to opt out of purchasing a meal plan altogether.
In 2019, 26% of college students surveyed said they would buy a meal plan if it were accepted by more fast-food restaurants.
Source: Food Service Director
This reveals an interesting dynamic in which some students may be willing to pay for access to healthier dining options on campus if those options included fast food restaurants as well.
While there’s certainly something counterintuitive about this conclusion from a health standpoint, it does offer colleges insight into what could make their meal plans more attractive to potential buyers.
The average college student will gain between 1.5 and 6.8 lbs during the first semester alone.
Source: New York University
The good news? This is far less than the oft-cited 15 lbs associated with the “freshman 15” myth.
While this statistic is encouraging news for incoming college freshmen who may have been worried about weight gain during their first year away from home due to changes in diet and nutrition habits, it also highlights how much work still needs to be done when it comes to improving student diets while they are away at school.
The typical college student will eat at a fast food restaurant up to three times each week.
Source: New York University
While this number is rather alarming—especially considering that fast food is loaded with unhealthy fats and calories—it’s important to note that this number may be slightly skewed due to the fact that many college students are on tight budgets or have limited access to other options.
What’s leading to college weight gain? Unlimited meal plans, the ready availability of junk food, and regular snacking account for up to 20% of added weight among co-eds.
Source: National Library of Medicine
This makes sense when you consider the fact that many colleges offer all-you-can-eat dining halls and vending machines full of unhealthy snacks like chips, candy bars, and sugary drinks.
Plus, with so many late nights studying or out with friends, it’s easy for students to skip meals and resort to snacking rather than eating something nutritious.
It’s clear from these statistics that many college students are not following healthy dietary guidelines when it comes to their eating habits while at school. Parents should talk to their students about eating right while away at school and encourage them to make smart choices when it comes time to snack or dine out with friends.
Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult – and there are plenty of resources out there that can help you make the best and most informed decisions about your health.
With just a few simple changes here and there, any student can make sure they’re getting all the nutrients they need.