College-based obesity prevention educational interventions

College-based obesity prevention educational interventions are multi-component efforts that provide education about nutrition, physical activity, and healthy weight management; such interventions are often paired with campus environment improvements. Interventions also frequently include self-monitoring, goal setting, and social support components, as well as opportunities for physical activity. College-based obesity prevention educational interventions can be delivered via web-based platforms, in-person interactions, group lectures and handouts, or tailored personal counseling (Plotnikoff 2015, Lua 2012*).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Improved dietary habits

  • Increased physical activity

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Improved physical fitness

  • Improved weight status

  • Improved health-related knowledge

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that college-based obesity prevention educational interventions improve dietary habits (Plotnikoff 2015, Roy 2015*, Kelly 2013*, Lua 2012*) and increase physical activity (Plotnikoff 2015, CG-Physical activity). Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects, particularly over the long term, and to understand which intervention components are most effective (Plotnikoff 2015, Roy 2015*, CG-Physical activity).

College-based obesity prevention programs increase physical activity and physical fitness in the short-term, but gains appear to fade over time (CG-Physical activityPlotnikoff 2015, Hivert 2007). Online obesity prevention interventions with social media and email components may prevent weight gain among college freshman (Gow 2010Levitsky 2006) and increase healthy weight management behaviors among students throughout college (West 2016). However, additional research is needed to understand the effects of college-based obesity prevention interventions on weight-related outcomes (Gudzune 2013*, Plotnikoff 2015, West 2016).   

Successful college-based obesity prevention interventions appear to combine personalized nutrition and physical activity counseling with environmental changes (Gudzune 2013*). Evaluations of Project WebHealth suggest that online interventions may improve weight-related behaviors among college students, and that tailoring interventions for males and females may increase effects (Dour 2013*).

Nutrition interventions conducted in person may be more effective than interventions conducted online, especially if in-person efforts include self-monitoring and goal setting components (Kelly 2013*). Web-based nutrition education programs for college students may increase nutrition knowledge (Watt 2006). When combined with nutrition education, food environment interventions such as price decreases for healthy foods, increases in healthy food options, nutrition labels, and efforts to control portion size for unhealthy foods improve dietary habits among college students (Roy 2015*, Kelly 2013*).

Experts suggest including eating disorder interventions and healthy weight management programs as part of college-based obesity prevention interventions to reduce eating disorders, unhealthy weight control practices, and obesity among college students (Kass 2017*). Such combined interventions appear to have greater effects for female college students with higher BMIs and more eating disorder symptoms than females with lower BMIs and fewer eating disorder symptoms (Stice 2013*).

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

Colleges and universities across the country are implementing various nutrition, physical activity, and healthy weight management education interventions, often through their university or campus health and wellness departments, including health promotion programs, wellness education websites, self-help tips, and counseling services for their students. For example, Great Value Colleges highlights 30 colleges and universities for their efforts to promote healthy living on campus (Kratsas-Healthy living on campus).

Implementation Resources

USDA-Nutrition at college - United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Agricultural Library. Food and nutrition information center: Nutrition at college.

CDC-College health - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). College health and safety.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Plotnikoff 2015 - Plotnikoff RC, Costigan SA, Williams RL, et al. Effectiveness of interventions targeting physical activity, nutrition and healthy weight for university and college students: A systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2015;12(1):45.

Roy 2015* - Roy R, Kelly B, Rangan A, Allman-Farinelli M. Food environment interventions to improve the dietary behavior of young adults in tertiary education settings: A systematic literature review. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2015;115(10):1647-1681.e1.

Kelly 2013* - Kelly NR, Mazzeo SE, Bean MK. Systematic review of dietary interventions with college students: Directions for future research and practice. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2013;45(4):304-313.

Lua 2012* - Lua PL, Wan Putri Elena WD. The impact of nutrition education interventions on the dietary habits of college students in developed nations: A brief review. Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences. 2012;19(1):4-14.

CG-Physical activity - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Physical activity.

Hivert 2007 - Hivert M-F, Langlois M-F, Bérard P, Cuerrier J-P, Carpentier A. Prevention of weight gain in young adults through a seminar-based intervention program. International Journal of Obesity. 2007;31(8):1262–9.

Gow 2010 - Gow RW, Trace SE, Mazzeo SE. Preventing weight gain in first year college students: An online intervention to prevent the “freshman fifteen.” Eating Behaviors. 2010;11(1):33–9.

Levitsky 2006 - Levitsky D, Garay J, Nausbaum M, Neighbors L, DellaValle D. Monitoring weight daily blocks the freshman weight gain: A model for combating the epidemic of obesity. International Journal of Obesity. 2006;30(6):1003–10.

West 2016 - West DS, Monroe CM, Turner-McGrievy G, et al. A technology-mediated behavioral weight gain prevention intervention for college students: Controlled, quasi-experimental study. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 2016;18(6):e133.

Gudzune 2013* - Gudzune K, Hutfless S, Maruthur N, Wilson R, Segal J. Strategies to prevent weight gain in workplace and college settings: A systematic review. Preventive Medicine. 2013;57(4):268-277.

Dour 2013* - Dour CA, Horacek TM, Schembre SM, et al. Process evaluation of Project WebHealth: A nondieting web-based intervention for obesity prevention in college students. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2013;45(4):288-295.

Watt 2006 - Watt M, Franko DL, Cunningham JA, et al. Benefits of web-based nutrition education for college students. American Public Health Association (APHA) 134th Annual Meeting and Exposition, November 4-8 2006.

Kass 2017* - Kass AE, Jones M, Kolko RP, et al. Universal prevention efforts should address eating disorder pathology across the weight spectrum: Implications for screening and intervention on college campuses. Eating Behaviors. 2017;25:74-80.

Stice 2013* - Stice E, Rohde P, Shaw H, Marti CN. Efficacy trial of a selective prevention program targeting both eating disorders and obesity among female college students: 1- and 2-year follow-up effects. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 2013;81(1):183-189.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Kratsas-Healthy living on campus - Kratsas G. 30 great schools promoting healthy living on campus. Great Value Colleges.

Date Last Updated