Transitioning to a new environment, as many freshmen do, can increase feelings of loneliness, and feelings of loneliness among college students have increased dramatically over the past decade, according to the National College Health Assessment. Additionally, a 2021 survey reported that 44% of US college students reported their weight as above normal, i.e. in either the overweight or obese category. Although loneliness has been linked to unhealthy weight and physical inactivity, there is a lack of research on college student dietary behavior and the role it may play in college student obesity.
Using data from the Mason: Health Starts Here cohort study, Master of Nutrition alum Li Jiang found that loneliness was linked to altered diet quality and physical inactivity. The research was conducted as part of Jiang’s master’s thesis, and Lawrence J. Cheskin, Chair of Mason Nutrition and Food Studies, Associate Professor Lilian de Jonge, Cara Frankenfeld, former faculty member, and Ziaul H. Rana, former postdoctoral researcher also contributed to the project at.
“Our study supports the potential need for further research to understand unhealthy eating behaviors and physical activity that may be related to loneliness, an emotion that affects many college students,” says Jiang.
Sedentary (19.2%) and sedentary (53.8%) behaviors were more common among high loneliness students (score ranges of 4-6 and 7-9) than low loneliness students (scores of 10-12). Students who reported more loneliness had higher fat diets than students who reported less loneliness.
“Interventions to reduce loneliness may have a positive impact on health promotion in this population. These data join other initial findings from the Health Starts Here study that college students are not following healthy eating guidelines or are not getting enough exercise said Cheskin, who has an MD.
The study is a cross-sectional study that analyzed baseline data collected in the first wave of Mason: Health Start Here in 2019 and was funded by George Mason University’s Institute for BioHealth Innovation.
“Loneliness is Associated with Unhealthy Diet Behaviors and Physical Inactivity Among US College Students,” was published in the November 2022 Journal of American College Health.
Mason: Health Starts Here is a unique transdisciplinary student cohort study to understand and improve the health and well-being of university students. This research will follow a broad sample of young adults, particularly Masonic students, over time to capture the diversity of their college experiences and their impact on their health and well-being.