Topical Area: Community and Public Health Nutrition, Obesity
College students spend most of their time on campus, where they are exposed to unhealthy vending machine (VM) snacks, increasing their risk of weight gain and co-morbidities. Improving VM snacks to healthier options could lead to a healthier student body. The objectives of this study were to identify the on-campus VM food choices of Florida International University (FIU) students and their perceptions about how these could be substituted with healthier alternatives. This was a preliminary study for a future intervention to improve quality of the snacks offered in VM at FIU.
Students were recruited through flyers and mass e-mails. After contacting and screening, 20 students participated in this mixed-methods study. The study was approved by the IRB and participants signed a consent form. They completed a demographic survey, a food preference questionnaire and a focus group, which was audio-recorded. Recordings were transcribed and analyzed using NVIVO. Data from the questionnaires were analyzed with descriptive statistics.
Most participants were female (75%), 18-24 years of age, seeking a bachelor’s degree (55%), and identified the most with Latin American/Hispanic cuisine (40%). Students purchased VM snacks a few times per month (45%) and preferred purchasing savory foods (80%). A total of 40% were somewhat unsatisfied with the selection of VM snacks and 50% were somewhat unsatisfied with the nutritional value of these foods. The main reason for purchasing from VMs was convenience and a fast solution to their hunger. Participants noted that certain areas of the university had healthier VM snacks than others, which cost more. They suggested the improvement of availability and accessibility of healthier snacks (i.e. protein foods and fresh, safe products), particularly for those with special needs (i.e. financial, allergies, disabilities), and placement of healthy snacks in high traffic areas. Creating a health culture, through the use of nutrition education, within FIU was deemed necessary for improving the quality of snacks on campus.
This study proved the need for improving snacks offered in VMs on campus and students are open to supporting this initiative, but suggested to be accompanied by a nutrition education program.
Funding Sources : Florida International University internal funds.