Date of Award

Summer 8-2018

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Food Science and Human Nutrition


Adrienne White

Second Committee Member

Kathryn Yerxa

Third Committee Member

Angela Myracle


First year college students are presented with new relationships, stressors, and environment, all of which prove to be triggers for weight gain. While the “freshman 15 appears to be a myth, weight gain is still common in this population. The purpose of this study was to investigate college students’ perceptions during their first year of school in relation to their actual body mass index (BMI), and perceived body size, stress, and environmental support for healthful lifestyles. First year college students (n=1,155) were recruited for the Get Fruved Project comprised of eight universities, with a 24-week social marketing intervention over the 2015- 2016 academic year. Students were considered “at risk” and eligible for the study if they ate less than two servings of fruits or three servings of vegetables per day and had one other risk factor (e.g. overweight/obese parent or guardian). Both control (n=518, 67.2% female) and treatment (n=637, 61.4% female) group participants completed pre- and post-assessment surveys and anthropometric measurements. Survey data were used to determine perceived stress, body size, and college environment for healthy eating. Perceived body size was self-selected from line figure drawings and then converted to BMIs for analyses. Anthropometric measurements were used to determine actual body mass index (BMI). Analyses included independent and paired samples t-tests and correlation. Intervention was implemented on treatment group campuses with a focus on topic areas to reduce stress, increase healthy behavior, and increase physical activity

From pre- to post-test, both control (p=0.001) and treatment (p=0.001) groups increased actual BMI. There was a trending significance for the treatment group to have a lower BMI than the control at post-test (p=0.06). Both control (p=0.001) and treatment (p=0.001) groups perceived their body size larger than their actual BMI. Treatment males did not view their perceived body size larger at post-test while control males did (p=0.03). Actual BMI was within the normal range and perceived body size was in the overweight range at pre- and post-test. Perceived stress increased from pre to post for both control (p=0.001) and treatment (p=0.001) groups, with females being significantly more stressed than males. Control and treatment groups for perceived access to healthy vending differed at post-test (p=0.01), but both still had negative views on its healthfulness. Both groups had positive perceptions for access to physical activity opportunities and healthy eating. At post-test, the treatment group scored higher than the control for physical activity opportunities (p=0.05) and lower for healthy eating access (p=0.001). There were weak, negative correlations between perceived stress and the healthfulness of the college environment, with significances most noted in the treatment group. Overall, first year college students’ perceptions were fairly stable, however, small decreases in perceptions for access to healthy eating, stress, and body size were seen. This is one of the first studies about first year college students’ perceptions of their body size, stress, and the college health environment. Findings should be helpful in future research about how to approach behavior change for healthful lifestyles.