Exploring Human Potential

College Women Need to Focus on Nutrition

Posted on | May 26, 2009 | 1 Comment

According to experts in nutrition, eating disorders have become the norm rather than the exception for college women in America.1,2 Surveys indicate that nine out of every ten college women attempt to control their weight with dieting. Thirty-five percent of those who begin as “normal dieters” become “pathologic dieters.” Of these, about one-quarter will develop partial or full-blown clinical eating disorders.  One study of 682 non-anorexic college women, with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 18.5, found that only one-third demonstrated normal nutritional behavior. Sixty-one percent had intermediary nutritional disorders and three percent had Bulimia Nervosa, a secretive style of binge eating followed by purging or vomiting.1,2,3

Major eating abnormalities have their origins in childhood in America. Forty-two percent of girls age 6 to 9 “want to be thinner.”4 Eighty-one percent of 10-year-old girls are “afraid of being fat.” In the pre-teen years, approximately 50% exercise to lose weight, 50% diet to lose weight, and 5% take diet pills or laxatives to lose weight.5,6,7 Many young women also smoke to suppress their appetite.6,8

The fact is, nearly 15% of young women head into college already burdened by substantially disordered eating attitudes and behaviors.3 College campuses are unique breeding grounds for eating disorders in women. The contributors are multiple. The environment is stressful and filled with change. Loneliness, depression and sleep disorders are common. Substance abuse is deeply embedded in the college culture, and peer pressure for women to be thin is enormous.1 Access to excellent nutrition and personalized nutrition counseling services for students have been relatively uncommon.

A continuum of strategies is needed to create healthier nutritional behaviors for college women. Parents, students, and colleges all have a role to play. Parents should begin early by examining their own prejudices and biases regarding food, nutrition, weight, and body image.9 What behaviors are you modeling for your children?

For college students, particularly females, recognize that you are vulnerable to an eating disorder. Through discussion with family and peers, come up with a realistic nutrition plan. Choose a college that will support your needs. Know your BMI. Do not abuse substances. Do not smoke. Focus on balance, self-worth, and reaching your full potential.10

Colleges:  consider formally monitoring BMI each semester through student health services. Offer full nutritional counseling with registered dieticians who will personalize nutrition plans when it is necessary – if BMI is outside the 20-30 corridor. Integrate mental health support where appropriate. Consider making nutritional  leadership a center of excellence for your institution.

For Health Commentary, I’m Mike Magee.


1.National Eating Disorders Association. Information about NEDAW 2005. 22 Feb. 2005.

2.Perfect Illusions: Eating Disorders and the Family. Accessed February 22, 2005.

3.Shisslak CM, Crago M, Estes LS. The spectrum of eating disturbances. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 1995; 18: 209-219.

4.Mintz LB, Betz, NE. Prevalence and correlates of eating disordered behaviors among undergraduate women. Journal of Counseling Psychology. 1988; 35: 463-471.

5.Collins ME. Body figure perceptions and preferences among pre-adolescent children. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 1991; 10: 199-208.

6.Mellin L, et al. A longitudinal study of the dietary practices of black and white girls 9 and 10 years old at enrollment: The NHLBI growth and health study. Journal of Adolescent Health. 1997; 20: 27-37.

7.Serdula MK, et al.Weight control practices of US adolescents and adults. Annals of Internal Medicine. 1993; 119: 667-671.

8.Picard CL. The level of competition as a factor for the development of eating disorders in female collegiate athletes. Journal of Youth & Adolescence.1999; 28: 583-594.

9.Gustafson-Larson AM, Terry RD. Weight-related behaviors and concerns of fourth-grade children. Journal of American Dietetic Association. 1992; 92: 818-822.

10.Lamberg L. Advances in eating disorders offer food for thought. JAMA. 2003; 290: 1437-1442.


One Response to “College Women Need to Focus on Nutrition”

  1. Jim
    November 23rd, 2009 @ 4:41 am

    As I sit here and write this I ponder what the future will bring? Will this solve the problem? Or make it worse?

Leave a Reply

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons