Werner, ’14, Finds Students' Nutritional Knowledge Wanting

Research poster presented at College’s annual symposium

May 7, 2014

Emily Wener, '14, provided context about her findings to guests who stopped to read her poster during the Elkin Isaac Student Research Symposium.
Emily Werner, '14, provided context about her findings to guests who stopped to read her poster during the Elkin R. Isaac Student Research Symposium in April. Read more

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture has tried to simplify nutritional information, with resources providing a visual of what healthy servings of food should look like on a plate, research conducted by an Albion exercise science minor has found that knowledge of dietary guidelines among the college-age population is far from where it should be.

Working under the direction of kinesiology professor Heather Betz, Emily Werner, ’14, designed questions for students to test her peers’ grasp of dietary fundamentals.

“I was interested to know if a majority of people followed [nutritional] recommendations, but first we had to look at whether people knew they existed,” Werner said. “We got the idea from a student from Tennessee, who presented findings from a similar study in children at a conference. We decided to look at whether students in a college population are aware of the government’s recommendations. If they are aware, do they know what they are?”

Werner, a biology major from Manchester, Mich., also sought to find a correlation between individuals with a healthy weight and their nutritional knowledge.

“A surprising statistic from our data research was the fact that more than 90 percent of the students we surveyed knew the government publishes nutritional guidelines, but not a single subject got every one right,” Werner said, noting that subjects listing the out-of-date food pyramid were considered knowledge of government-issued guidelines.

Betz added that respondents’ knowledge of daily recommended servings—included on nutrition labels for all packages of foods found at the market—was woefully inadequate. While some lack of knowledge could be attributed to the fact that the majority of the college-age population doesn’t regularly buy food at the market, Betz will push to have general nutrition information presented to Albion students—whether in the dining hall or in class.

Werner, who has been accepted into the graduate program for nutrition at Drexel University, hopes to present her paper at a regional meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in the fall. She’ll likely submit it for publication as well.

“I was saddened by the result of how few knew what the recommendations were,” Werner said. “I want people to have the information they need to be healthy. I hope the research can be used to show the need for basic nutrition information on a national level.”

Betz added, “I plan on incorporating the same awareness questions into a study I’m submitting to the Institutional Review Board in the fall for a longitudinal study into the overall health of Albion College students. I hope to see an upward trend in knowledge that the government recommendations exist and what they are."