Nutritional Needs of Diverse Students on a University Campus

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Sarah Marshall, BSN
School of Nursing, Mount Vernon Nazarene University, Mount Vernon, OH, USA


The purpose for this research was to look at the nutritional needs of students from diverse cultural backgrounds. The importance of this was to make sure these students are getting adequate nutrients and feel at home in a foreign land. Some of the background for the research stems from the increasing amount of culturally-diverse students on university campuses, particularly Mount Vernon Nazarene University, and the desire to provide food that meets their nutritional needs. For most domestic university students, the campus cafeteria can give them their favorite food item within minutes. However, for a culturally-diverse college student, this rarely happens. These students have to cope with changes in their environment and way of life. One of the most important struggles international students face is finding food for themselves with the proper nutritional value. Trying to figure out how to navigate campus food systems, local supermarkets, and convenience stores is difficult for students going to a new area for schooling, much less students from other nations and cultures.

The literature review included important information to gain additional background for the research. Hughes, Serebryanikova, Donaldson, and Leveritt (2011) used “food insecurity” of students on campus (most of whom are international students) as the outcome to be measured (p. 27). Amos and Lordly (2014) asks about students’ interactions with food. Yan, Finn, Cardinal, and Bent measured “knowledge, attitudes, and practice” of “nutrition, physical activity, smoking secession, stress management, and cultural competence” (2014, p. 289). To better help these students, it was suggested that “[P]eer education” be used to facilitate understanding of nutritional concepts (Yan, et al., 2014, p. 228). Banna, Gilliland, Keefe, and Zheng researched what Chinese students thought healthy eating compared to American students and showed that healthy eating meant different things to the different cultural groups. Brown, et al., collected data about “MyPlate Food Recognition” and “Eating Behaviors” (2014, p. 320). In an immigrant group where the research focused on African immigrants, the authors found “four overarching themes...moderation is healthy...[their] ways of living are healthy, acquiring American ways is unhealthy, and cultural context is important...” (Turk, Fapohunda, & Zoucha, 2014, p. 16). For implementing a change in nutrition education for international or diverse students on college campuses, the recommendation would be to use media, peer education, and accountability to encourage healthy changes.

The nursing theory applied to this research was the Culture-Care Theory of Madeline Leininger. This theory can help nursing and healthcare professionals assist international students with nutritional needs. First, the “[c]ulture care preservation or maintenance” can be used for the students as they maintain important parts of their culture (Masters, 2012, p. 181). Secondly, “[c]ulture care accommodation or negotiation” can help students to “adapt” to a new culture. Lastly, “Cultural care repatterning or restructuring” can assist the student to “reorder, change, or modify” their ways of life for ones that are more healthy (Masters, 2012, p. 181).

The method for this research was an exploratory descriptive design. Permission from the International Review Board was granted for this research. A 12-question survey tool with an extra area for the students to give their country of origin, as well as additional comments, was sent out to the population on campus. It was sent out using SurveyMonkey. The population included 140 students in the diversity program at MVNU. These students were from multiple backgrounds and ethnicities. Some of them were from the United States, but others were from several different countries.

The final sample included 42 completed surveys from 42 participants who were freshmen to senior classification, plus a master’s student. Most of the participants were part of a minority ethnic group, and the others were either born overseas or part of a missionary family. The results showed 78.57% agreed more culturally-diverse food should be offered at MVNU, and 50% of the participants gave comments saying what food they would like to see on campus.

Research done on MVNU’s campus has shown some places where participants feel very strongly. First, when asked if cultural food needs were being met, 57.14% of the participants disagreed. Students were not being provided with foods from their culture, as they would have liked. Next, 83.33% of participants agreed, saying they liked the food from their culture. Moreover, 50% of participants agreed the food from their culture was healthier than the food from the United States. This was important to note, because if participants are not able to find the food from their culture, either on or off campus, they may have a higher incidence of “food insecurity” (Hughes, et al, 2011). These results are also important because these students agree their food is healthier, similar to the immigrants in the research by Turk, Fapohunda, and Zoucha (2014). Many participants, 54.77% also agreed culturally-appropriate nutrition education could be helpful. This is important, because nutrition education is something MVNU could offer to culturally-diverse students when they come to MVNU. Lastly, 78.57% of participants said more culturally-diverse food should be offered.

Limitations included 30% return of surveys, no established validity or reliability of the survey tool, convenience sampling, and a time constraint. There was no opportunity to pilot the survey. Evidence of the need to pilot the survey was seen in looking at the data. In reviewing the data, there appeared to be some confusion as evidenced by mismatch of responses among the participants who may have been unclear as to what category best fit them. Included in the Likert scale questions was an option of neutral. It would have been helpful to know what the participants meant by choosing neutral.

Recommendations include a peer education program as well as a nutrition education program. Media and texting could be used to facilitate information reached the students. Also, the food service on campus should be worked with to see if changes in food in the campus cafeteria could be improved to better suit culturally-diverse students’ nutritional needs.