SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Keywords:

  • females;
  • nutrient intake;
  • physical activity patterns;
  • vegetarian

Abstract

Background

Inadequate nutrient intake and physical inactivity may have adverse health consequences. The present study aimed to describe young female students' dietary intake, food choices and physical activity (PA) patterns, and also to determine the influence of dietary avoidance of meat and poultry on nutrient intake.

Methods

A cross-sectional study of female university students was conducted. Questionnaires were used to measure dietary intakes, food habits and PA. Anthropometric measurements of participants included height, weight and calculated body mass index (BMI).

Results

There were 308 participants with a mean (SD) age of 22.9 (3.9) years and a BMI of 21.5 (2.8) kg m–2; 78% were in the BMI range 18.5–24.9 kg m–2. Of those who responded to the PA questionnaire (n = 218), 53% reported activity ≥150 min per week, with walking being the largest contributor. Completed food frequency questionnaires were returned by 256 participants. National recommendations for servings of cereals, vegetables, meat, fish and energy-dense ‘extra foods’ were not met by the majority of participants. Avoidance of animal foods was reported in 23% of women, and resulted in lower intakes of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, selenium and zinc (P < 0.05) compared to non-avoidance. Iron intake from animal sources decreased significantly (P < 0.05) with the increase in meat and poultry avoidance.

Conclusions

Female students had a healthy weight and reported adequate physical activity. However, in comparison to meat and poultry consumers, the avoidance of these foods was associated with a lower intake of some micronutrients. A sustained low intake of micronutrients may lead to adverse health effects in the longer-term, such as compromised immune function and iron deficiency anaemia.