Background:  The Foresight report (Butland et al., 2007) has identified that risk perception is an area where additional evidence is needed to improve the understanding of obesity. The Department of Health (2009) reports university students as a group vulnerable to weight gain and therefore future programs for obesity could be informed by the knowledge of the target group. The aim of this project was to investigate the knowledge of Coventry University students regarding the health risks associated with obesity.

Methods:  Non-probability convenience sampling was used to recruit 40 participants from Coventry University. Data was collected using a ‘pen-and-paper’ questionnaire format and the validated Obesity Risk Knowledge–10 scale (ORK-10 scale) was used to assess level of knowledge (Swift 2006). The ORK-10 Scale consists of 10 brief questions covering obesity related co-morbidities such as diabetes, cancer, life expectancy and high blood pressure, with the option of answering true, false or don't know. Each correct answer scored 1 point, therefore a higher score indicated greater knowledge. Socio-demographic data including gender, age, ethnicity, course and faculty were also collected. Because of the small sample size of the study, these independent variables were dichotomised; gender into male and female, age groups into <20 and >20 years, ethnicity into Caucasian and non-Caucasian, course into undergraduate and postgraduate and faculty into health and life sciences compared with other faculties. A Kolmogorov-Smirnov test was used to assess the normality of the distribution of ORK-10 scale scores. The results indicated normal distribution of ORK-10 score for gender, ethnicity, course and faculty groups, supporting the use of a t-test. For comparing scores between age groups, the data was not normally distributed, supporting the use of a nonparametric Mann–Whitney U-test. The study received approval from the Coventry University Ethics Committee.

Results:  The participant population consisted of 16 males and 24 females, 13 < 20 and 27 > 20 years of age, 25 Caucasians and 15 non-Caucasians, 36 undergraduates and four postgraduates, and 20 in the health and life sciences faculty and 20 in other faculties including engineering and computing, art and design, business, environment and society, and lifelong learning. No significant differences were found in ORK-10 scores between gender (P = 0.276), ethnicity (P = 0.179), course (P = 0.310), or faculty (P = 0.168). However, a statistically significant difference was found in ORK-10 scores between age groups, participants >20 years of age had a greater level of knowledge (median = 6, interquartile range = 4), compared to those <20 years of age (median = 4, interquartile range = 2), P = 0.031.

Discussion:  Significant differences were observed in ORK-10 scores according to age with older students scoring higher. This agrees with the finding of Swift (2006) and may be explained by the increased exposure of this age group to health messages. In contrast to previous findings (Swift 2006), studying health and life sciences was not associated with increased knowledge of health risks. This may be explained by the limited sample size of the study, the students may have been in the early stages of their course, sampling bias may have meant that only students interested in health took part, and the sampling technique may not have been representative of the population.

Conclusion:  This study found a statistically significant relationship between knowledge of health risk associated with obesity and age of the students. There is a need for further research in this area, and future studies of larger randomly selected students would help to confirm the need for targeted obesity education programs. The results conclude that students <20 years of age should be considered as a target population for future obesity education programs, in order to make a positive impact on heath behaviour and dietary choices.

References:  Butland, B., Jebb, S., Kopelman, P., McPherson, K., Thomas, S., Mardell, J., & Parry, V. (2007) Foresight Tackling Obesities: Future Choices Project Report. 2nd edn.Government Office for Science, Department of Innovation Universities and Skills.

Department of Health (2009) Obesity [online] Available at: [Accessed on 13 September 2009].

Swift, J.A., Glazebrook, C. & Macdonald, I. (2006) Validation of a brief, reliable scale to measure knowledge about the health risks associated with obesity. Int. J. Obesity30, 661–668.