Preventing the “Freshman 15” via the Web

New study reports process improvements to improve college student weight-related health behaviors


WEBWIRE – Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Philadelphia, PA, - A new study published in the July/August 2013 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior evaluated the motivational effects of Project WebHealth, a web-based health promotion intervention developed to prevent excessive weight gain in college students. Researchers found that specific procedures and components of Project WebHealth successfully motivated students to improve their weight-related health behaviors and that the level of motivation differed by gender.

The college years are frequently associated with risky health behaviors such as poor diet quality, reduced physical activity, and inadequate weight loss practices, often resulting in the “Freshman 15.” Studies have suggested that web-based health promotional programs could make a difference. Project WebHealth online lessons are designed to help motivate students to engage in more healthful behaviors like increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and levels of maintained physical activity. This nondiet approach included lessons about body size and healthy weight, hunger/fullness, physical activity, skills to fuel the body, enhancing food variety, and eating enjoyment.

A multi-institutional study team investigated the overall impact of Project WebHealth and evaluated the underlying procedures that could help change dietary and exercise behavior among college students, including physical assessments and monetary incentives, as well as intervention components (eg, online lessons, goal setting). The study included 653 Project WebHealth participants from 8 geographically diverse institutions across the United States.

About half of the participants completed the Project WebHealth online lessons and filled out an instructional materials motivation survey, which gathered feedback about the lessons and lesson components. All participants completed an additional survey which gathered feedback on the participation process, including the online study surveys and physical assessments, feedback about the assessments, interaction with the research staff, and compensation.

The study found that women were generally more motivated than men. Among those who improved their health behaviors, the most effective lessons/lesson components for men included those on fueling the body, goal setting, and research snippets. Their female counterparts found significantly more motivation from lessons on body size and eating enjoyment, and by the suggested weekly activities.

Lead investigator Colleen Dour, MS, RD, Department of Public Health, Food Studies and Nutrition, Syracuse University, explains, “These findings suggest implementing a nondiet approach could be effective in gender-tailored interventions, but content relative to nondiet themes might need modification to improve its motivational influence. Such improvements might include adding video or audio clips within the lessons or even sending a tailored email to participants with a health message. Because many young adults still focus on dieting, further exploration on how best to communicate a nondiet approach is needed. Rather than college students falling into inappropriate diet habits that are common during the college years, we want to teach them how to prevent these behaviors from developing.”

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Notes for Editors
“Process Evaluation of Project WebHealth: A Nondieting Web-based Intervention for Obesity Prevention in College Students,” by Colleen A. Dour, MS, RD; Tanya M. Horacek, PhD, RD; Susan M. Schembre, PhD, RD; Barbara Lohse, PhD, RD; Sharon Hoerr, PhD, RD; Kendra Kattelmann, PhD, RD; Adrienne A. White, PhD, RD; Suzanne Shoff, PhD; Beatrice Phillips, PhD, RD; and Geoffrey Greene, PhD, RD, appears in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Volume 45, Issue 4 (July/August 2013) published by Elsevier.

Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Eileen Leahy at +1 732 238 3628 or jnebmedia@elsevier.com to obtain copies. To schedule an interview with the authors, please contact Colleen Dour (cboyle@syr.edu) or Dr. Tanya Horacek at the Department of Public Health, Food Studies and Nutrition, Syracuse University, at +1 315 443 9323 or thoracek@syr.edu.

About the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior (www.jneb.org)
The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior (JNEB), the official journal of the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB), is a refereed, scientific periodical that serves as a resource for all professionals with an interest in nutrition education and dietary/physical activity behaviors. The purpose of JNEB is to document and disseminate original research, emerging issues, and practices relevant to nutrition education and behavior worldwide and to promote healthy, sustainable food choices. It supports the society’s efforts to disseminate innovative nutrition education strategies, and communicate information on food, nutrition, and health issues to students, professionals, policy makers, targeted audiences, and the public.

The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior features articles that provide new insights and useful findings related to nutrition education research, practice, and policy. The content areas of JNEB reflect the diverse interests of health, nutrition, education, Cooperative Extension, and other professionals working in areas related to nutrition education and behavior. As the Society’s official journal, JNEB also includes occasional policy statements, issue perspectives, and member communications.

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a world-leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services. The company works in partnership with the global science and health communities to publish more than 2,000 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and close to 20,000 book titles, including major reference works from Mosby and Saunders. Elsevier’s online solutions include ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, Reaxys, ClinicalKey and Mosby’s Suite, which enhance the productivity of science and health professionals, helping research and health care institutions deliver better outcomes more cost-effectively.

A global business headquartered in Amsterdam, Elsevier employs 7,000 people worldwide. The company is part of Reed Elsevier Group plc, a world leading provider of professional information solutions. The group employs more than 30,000 people, including more than 15,000 in North America. Reed Elsevier Group plc is owned equally by two parent companies, Reed Elsevier PLC and Reed Elsevier NV. Their shares are traded on the London, Amsterdam and New York Stock Exchanges using the following ticker symbols: London: REL; Amsterdam: REN; New York: RUK and ENL.



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