Electronic Interventions to Improve Health Behaviors in College Students

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Introduction: In transitioning from adolescence to adulthood, college students are faced with significant challenges to their health habits. Time, independence and stress have been known to result in poor eating and exercise habits which can lead to increased disease risk. Objective: To assess whether an electronic health intervention can improve health habits in college students. Methods: A 24-week diet and physical activity program was delivered by e-mail to 148 college students. The intervention involved weekly tailored, interactive diet and physical activity goals. The control group received non-diet-non-exercise-related health fact sheets. Baseline, 12-week, and 24-week diet and physical activity surveys were completed online. BMI, neck circumference, waist circumference, and percent fat mass (FM%) by bioelectrical impedance analysis were measured at baseline, week 12 and week 24. Results: Students were 18-20 years old 70% female from a diverse college campus (46% Caucasian, 23% Asian, 20% African American, 5% Hispanic, and 6% other). At baseline, 23% were overweight/obese by BMI, 88% reported consuming <5 fruits and vegetables daily, 59% consumed >10% of kcalories from saturated fat, although 91% met or exceeded 150 minutes/week of moderate-vigorous exercise. Seventy-one percent of students completed all study visits. Repeated measures ANOVA showed a significant treatment by linear time interaction for saturated fat. A significant change from baseline saturated fat intake was detected between the treatment groups at week 24 (mean change ± standard error 0.7±0.42% of kcal for control and -0.3±0.30% of kcal for intervention). Differences in saturated fat intake between the two treatment groups were more evident in those whose intake exceeded recommendations. BMI, neck circumference, waist circumference, FM%, weekly minutes of moderate and vigorous physical activity as well as intake of fruit, vegetables, and added sugar were not significantly different between treatment groups. Conclusion: College students enrolled in an interactive electronic health intervention decreased saturated fat intake compared to control. Furthermore, the decrease observed in the intervention group was mainly due to those whose intake of saturated fat intake was above the recommended 10% of total kcalories. Further development of the electronic intervention program is needed to maximize health benefits in college students.