A health promotion program, called E3 - Energy Balance Health Program for University Students, organized by the Hungarian Dietetic Association was held recently. The program comprised of free individual counselling and was aimed at promoting healthy eating habits and energy balance among students of the three biggest universities in the country. Assessment of health status of more than 5,000 students revealed that 35% of the young adult group faces body weight problems and a significant risk of cardiovascular diseases.
5174 university students participated in the counselling sessions and attended talks delivered by dieticians at three universities in Budapest, Pécs and Debrecen during the three-year program period between 2013 and 2015. Anthropometric parameters, eating habits and physical activity of students were also assessed.
Analysis of the collected data showed that more than 19% of the participants (1008 students) were obese or overweight, while more than 7% of them were categorised as undernourished, based on their BMI. Based on their waist circumference, a total of 243 students had an increased cardiovascular risk. Interestingly, this survey found no significant relationship between consumption of sugary foods and visceral fat development. 14% of the participating students already had some chronic diseases: food allergy (169 cases) and cardiovascular conditions (83 cases). Significant differences were found between the genders in terms of prevalence of hypertension and food allergy. Hypertension was found to be characteristic primarily in case of male students, while food allergy was found to be more prevalent among females. No such difference was found in other cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.
As for students' eating habits, dieticians concluded that 71% of students consumed less fruit and vegetables than the recommended daily amount. Whole grains were consumed only by 39% of the participants on a regular basis. Many of the participants have adopted some special diets or eating patterns like low carbohydrate, gluten-free or lactose-free diets. The collective data showed that most of them drink less water than the recommended daily intake, which is 2 litres for women and 2.5 litres for men from all dietary sources. 44.5% of the assessed students do not drink more than 1-2 litres a day.
Young adults are more active than the average Hungarian adult population. 45.5% of the students regularly participated in sports or did some exercises, 44.7% of them occasionally participated in sports or did some exercises. This is in contrast with the adults, where only 15% participate in sports regularly and 23% do so sometimes.
The purpose of the “E3” program was to examine health status, eating and lifestyle habits of university students, and additionally to improve their knowledge on energy balance and healthy diet. High rate of attendance indicates that young adults have an open mind to healthy lifestyle, and recognize the importance of balanced diet and physical activity in prevention of chronic diseases. The results help to identify gaps in knowledge, unhealthy eating and lifestyle habits, which in turn provide an opportunity for dieticians and other healthcare professionals to make significant improvement in the health status of the Hungarian population.
Zsuzsanna Szucs, Member of the Executive Committee of the Hungarian Dietetic Association
Jolan Kubanyi, President of the Hungarian Dietetic Association