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European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2003) 57, Suppl 1, S90–S93

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ORIGINAL COMMUNICATION
Influence of the desire to lose weight on food habits,
and knowledge of the characteristics of a balanced
diet, in a group of Madrid university students
B Navia1*, RM Ortega1, AM Requejo1, MC Mena1, JM Perea1 and AM López-Sobaler1

1
Departamento de Nutrición, Facultad de Farmacia, Universidad Complutense, Madrid, Spain

Objective: The aim of this study was to determine the desire to lose weight in a group of university students, and to analyse the
influence of this desire on declared food habits. The degree of knowledge on what constitutes a balanced diet was also
determined.
Design: Cross-sectional population survey.
Subjects: The study subjects were 234 university students (48 males and 186 females) aged 22.371.5 y. The weight and height
of each were recorded. All subjects were questioned on their desire to lose weight, habitual food intake frequencies, and about
what they considered to constitute a balanced diet.
Results: Approximately half the population (47.9%), both male (47.8%) and female (47.9%), expressed a desire to lose weight,
even though the percentage of overweight students was low (11.1% overall, although much greater among male students
[39.6%] than female students [3.8]). The body mass index (BMI) of those who wanted to lose weight was greater than that
of those who did not. Nonetheless, the majority of subjects (especially females) showed BMIs within the normal range
(18–25 kg/m2). Among those who wished to lose weight, the consumption of sweet foods was lower F although these subjects
believed they ought to consume even less. It was also thought necessary that egg consumption be reduced, although no
differences were recorded in declared consumption between those who wished to lose weight and those who did not.
Conclusions: The results show that there is great concern over body weight, although no great differences were seen in the food
habits and nutrition knowledge of those who wished to lose weight and those who did not.
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2003) 57, Suppl 1, S90–S93. doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601807

Keywords: concern over body weight; university students; knowledge; balanced diet; food habits; declared intake

Introduction could condition nutritional status (Appleton & Conner,


Concern about nutrition has grown appreciably in recent 2001). The aim of this study is to deepen our knowledge in
years, although the level of knowledge about nutrition has these areas.
not increased by the same degree (Zemel et al, 1993). Body
weight is the main concern of most people, and especially
among female populations, who tend to follow conducts Materials and methods
aimed at controlling body weight more commonly than do Subjects
male populations (Neumark-Sztainer et al, 1999). The study subjects were 234 students, aged 20–30 y, attend-
This concern over body weight and the actual weight of ing Madrid’s Universidad Complutense, who were enrolled
individuals, is closely related to certain food habits that in at least one nutrition/dietetics course but who had not yet
begun these classes.
*Correspondence: B Navia Lombán, Departamento de Nutrición, Facultad
de Farmacia, Universidad Complutense, 28040 Madrid, Spain.
E-mail: bnavialo@farm.ucm.es Questionnaire
Guarantor: B Navia Lombán
The students completed a questionnaire in which they
Contributors: BN, RMO and AMR have been involved in the study
design and MCM, JMP and AMLS contributed to the analysis of the recorded their age, weight and height and responded either
data, and revision of the paper. ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question ‘Would you like to lose weight?’
Influence of the desire to lose weight
B Navia et al
S91
The same questionnaire also asked subjects for information males, and 21.971.9 kg/m2 compared to 19.271.2 kg/m2,
on their food intake frequencies (in times/day, times/week or Po0.001 in women). However, in the group that wished to
times/month), and about what they considered normal lose weight, 30.4% of male and 92.1% of female students had
intakes, with respect to cereals (bread, rice, pasta), pulses, BMIs between 18.5 and 25 kg/m2; that is, even though they
fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, milk products, fats and oils, had normal BMIs, they still wanted to lose weight.
sweets and alcoholic drinks. Those who wished to lose weight declared a lower
Recommended food intake frequencies were taken as those consumption of sweet foods than those who did not; they
established by different bodies (US Department of Agricul- also thought they should eat even less of this type of food
ture, 1992; Nutrition Reviews, 1992), bearing in mind (Tables 1 and 2). They also believed that eating fewer eggs
modifications for the Spanish population (Ortega & Requejo, was a good idea (Table 2). The difference between normal
1998). consumption and that which was believed more correct was
similar in both groups (ie, those who did/did not wish to lose
weight). No differences were found between these groups
Statistical analysis with respect to habitual food intake and that officially
Means and s.d. are shown for data and the response rate. regarded as the minimum advisable (Table 3).
Differences with respect to gender and the desire to lose
weight were calculated using two-way ANOVA. Significance
was set at Po0.05. Discussion
Studies indicate that body weight is one of the areas of
nutrition that most worries young people (Ortega et al,
Results 1997). This concern is greater among those who are
Some 47.9% of the students expressed a desire to lose weight, overweight/obese, and especially among women (Sherwood
even though only 11.1% had BMIs that indicated they were et al, 2000). Compared to men, women usually follow diets
overweight (BMIZ25 kg/m2). The percentage of overweight more frequently (George & Johnson, 2001; Skeie & Klepp,
male students (BMIZ25 kg/m2; 39.6%) was much greater 2002) and have a lower desired body weight (Anderson et al,
than that of female students (3.8%). Low body weight 2003). Further, they are more concerned about slimming and
(BMIo18.5 kg/m2) was much more common among female more motivated to lose weight (Wardle & Johnson, 2002).
students than among male students (11.3% compared to Independent of their current weight they frequently seek to
2.1%). Even so, the same percentage of male and female reduce it (Requejo et al, 1997). However, those who are
subjects expressed a desire to lose weight (47.8 and 47.9% concerned about their weight are not always those who are
respectively). most knowledgeable about nutrition (Wong & Huang, 1999).
Both the male and female students who wanted to lose Although adult women generally want to lose weight
weight had greater BMIs than those who had no such desire more commonly than men (Timperio et al, 2000), such
(27.074.0 kg/m2 compared to 22.471.9 kg/m2, Po0.001 in concerns are ever less sex-related, especially in young people

Table 1 Declared habitual intake frequencies (times/week) with respect to the desire to lose weight (Mean7s.d.)

Subjects who wanted to lose weight Subjects who did not want to lose weight

Males Females Males Females


Foods n=23 n=89 n=25 n=97

Cereals 14.377.2 14.777.5 15.978.2 15.977.7


Pulses 1.670.9 1.571.1 1.770.9 2.272.8
Cereals+pulses 15.977.4 16.277.7 17.678.6 18.078.7
Fruita 7.174.4 10.277.4 7.776.4 10.176.4
Vegetablesa 7.675.3 9.477.3 5.273.7 8.775.2
Meata 5.071.7 4.071.7 5.374.1 4.671.9
Fish 3.072.0 3.373.8 2.571.7 3.171.7
Eggsa 3.073.0 2.471.1 3.775.3 2.571.1
Meat+fish+eggs 11.074.9 9.774.8 11.578.3 10.273.1
Milk products 15.076.8 17.978.1 17.5710.3 17.677.5
Fats and oilsa 5.474.8 7.575.4 4.274.5 7.775.1
Sweet foodsb 2.572.6 4.474.3 5.174.5 5.375.2
Alcoholic drinks 1.371.3 1.171.2 0.971.2 1.171.7

a,b
(Po0.05) significant difference with respect to asex and bthe desire to lose weight (using two-way ANOVA in which the influence of both variables was taken into
account).

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Influence of the desire to lose weight
B Navia et al
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Table 2 Food intake frequencies considered correct for proper nutrition (times/week) with respect to desire to lose weight (Mean7s.d.).

Subjects who wanted to lose weight Subjects who did not want to lose weight

Males Females Males Females


Foods n=23 n=89 n=25 n=97

Cerealsa 13.075.2 16.878.1 15.975.4 17.778.0


Pulses 2.771.1 2.972.0 2.871.1 3.874.8
Cereals+pulsesa 15.775.6 19.978.7 18.775.3 21.6710.6
Fruit 11.775.4 12.476.0 11.575.9 12.975.7
Vegetables 10.377.0 12.179.9 9.176.5 11.476.8
Meat 4.072.1 3.773.2 3.571.8 4.172.3
Fisha 3.971.7 4.273.3 2.871.1 4.372.7
Eggsb,c 2.571.3 2.671.9 4.274.3 2.871.7
Meat+fish+eggs 10.474.3 10.676.9 10.475.4 11.175.0
Milk products 17.477.2 18.977.2 19.277.9 21.378.2
Fats and oilsa 3.674.5 5.374.6 4.473.6 5.674.3
Sweet foodsa,d 0.971.1 2.672.7 2.072.1 2.972.4
Alcoholic drinks 0.871.6 1.372.1 1.172.3 1.372.0

a,b
(Po0.05) significant difference with respect to asex and bthe desire to lose weight (using two-way ANOVA in which the influence of both variables was taken into
account). c,d(Po0.1) almost significant difference with respect to csex and dthe desire to lose weight (using two-way ANOVA in which the influence of both variables
was taken into account).

Table 3 Differences in habitual food intake frequencies and the minimum recommended (times/day) with respect to desire to lose weight (Mean7s.d.)

Subjects who wanted to lose weight Subjects who did not want to lose weight

Males Females Males Females


Foods n=23 n=89 n=25 n=97

Cereals 3.771.1 3.771.1 3.571.2 3.471.2


Fruita 1.070.63 0.5571.1 0.8970.91 0.5670.91
Vegetablesa 1.970.75 1.771.0 2.370.54 1.870.70
Meat+fish+eggs 0.4570.70 0.6170.68 0.3671.2 0.5470.45
Milk products 0.1470.97 0.5671.2 0.4971.5 0.5171.1

a
(Po0.05) significant difference with respect to sex (using two-way ANOVA in which the influence of the desire to lose weight was also taken into account).

(Alexander & Tepper, 1995). In the present study, the desire With respect to nutrition knowledge and the diet of the
of both sexes to lose weight was very similar (47.9% in men subjects, those who wanted to lose weight declared a lower
and 47.9% in women), although this might have been intake of sweet foods than those who had no such wish
because male subjects were more frequently overweight (Po0.05) (Table 1). In fact, they believed they ought to eat
(39.6% of males compared to 3.8% of females had a even less of these foods (Po0.1) F the amount considered
BMIZ25 kg/m2). ‘correct’ being lower among men than among women
In this population, only 11.1% of subjects had BMIs (Po0.05) (Table 2). This belief that fewer sweet foods should
indicative of excess body weight (BMIZ25 kg/m2), while be consumed to achieve a lower body weight is similar to
9.4% were underweight (BMIo18.5 kg/m2). Even so, 47.9% that recorded in other groups, with male subjects who
of subjects declared a desire to lose weight. These subjects wanted to lose weight once again believing in larger
had greater BMIs than those who did not wish to lose weight. numbers that sweet consumption should be reduced
Among those who wanted to lose weight, 30.4% of male (Nowak, 1998).
subjects and 92.1% of female subjects had BMIs between Those who wanted to lose weight also thought egg intake
18.5 and 25 kg/m2, that is, even though they had normal should be reduced (Table 2). This might be due to the fact
BMIs they still wanted to lose weight. In addition, all that it is generally believed that to reduce fat intake
female subjects who were overweight (BMIZ25 kg/m2) (frequently associated with being overweight F Lee & Birch,
expressed a desire to lose weight, while 12% of overweight 2002), it is a good idea to reduce egg consumption (Capps
male subjects F despite their excess F declared no wish to et al, 2002). However, when comparing actual food intake
lose weight. with the minimum recommended, no differences were

European Journal of Clinical Nutrition


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B Navia et al
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