3.6 Barriers to Healthy Nutrition

Approximately half of the United States population fails to meet the Dietary Guidelines. Scientific studies which measure nutritional behaviors often derive findings from a survey known as the Healthy Eating Index (HEI). The HEI assesses the quality of an individual’s diet, and determines whether or not the diet is in compliance with Dietary Guidelines (Guenther, et al., 2014). Current HEI results indicate that approximately half of the United States population fails to meet the Dietary Guidelines (Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, 2016; Guenther, et al., 2014). As previously noted, adherence to a balanced diet may improve health, and poor eating habits may contribute to the development of various chronic diseases and excess weight gain. Many individuals are aware of these consequences and desire to change their dietary behaviors, yet face daunting environmental and situational barriers to engaging in healthy eating patterns.

Common environmental and psychological barriers which college students cite include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. Limited time available to plan for and prepare healthy meals (Silliman, Rodas-Fortier, & Neyman, 2004).
  2. High costs of healthy and nutritious food options (LaCaille, Dauner, Krambeer, & Pedersen, 2011).
  3. Lack of options for healthy food/meals on college campuses (LaCaille, Dauner, Krambeer, & Pedersen, 2011).
  4. Lack of social support, motivation, or self-control (Deliens, Clarys, De Bourdeaudhuij, & Deforche, 2014; LaCaille, Dauner, Krambeer, & Pedersen, 2011).

Indeed, the barriers to healthy nutrition in college are numerous and complex. Despite these barriers, developing a healthy eating pattern is possible – and can even be quite enjoyable! The following section provides an array of dietary resources and tools for the interested individual.


Comprehension check:

Identify your top three barriers to healthy nutrition. What can you personally do to reduce/eliminate these barriers in the next week? For each barrier, write a behavioral goal (see the Goal-Setting section in Chapter 2). Additionally, challenge yourself to keep a three-day food journal in the upcoming week. Are you eating at least 35 nutrient-dense foods per week? Are you limiting your added sugars and saturated fats?


Containers with cherry tomatoes (red and yellow) at a market.
Many college students cite the high cost of fresh fruits and vegetables as a barrier to establishing healthy eating habits. Several strategies to overcome this barrier are to price-compare/use coupons when grocery shopping, buy in bulk and share with roommates/friends, or to buy produce that is in season. Photo by Anne Preble on Unsplash

Works Cited

Deliens, T., Clarys, P., De Bourdeaudhuij, I., & Deforche, B. (2014). Determinants of eating behaviour in university students: a qualitative study using focus group discussions. BMC public health, 14(1), 53.

Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. (2016). Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Government Printing Office.

Guenther, P. M., Kirkpatrick, S. I., Reedy, J., Krebs-Smith, S. M., Buckman, D. W., Dodd, K. W., Casavale, K. O., & Carroll, R. J. (2014). The Healthy Eating Index-2010 is a valid and reliable measure of diet quality according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Journal of Nutrition, jn-113.

LaCaille, L. J., Dauner, K. N., Krambeer, R. J., & Pedersen, J. (2011). Psychosocial and environmental determinants of eating behaviors, physical activity, and weight change among college students: a qualitative analysis. Journal of American College Health, 59(6), 531-538.

Silliman, K., Rodas-Fortier, K., & Neyman, M. (2004). A survey of dietary and exercise habits and perceived barriers to following a healthy lifestyle in a college population. Cal J Health Promot, 18, 281.


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A Guide to Physical Activity Copyright © 2019 by Eydie Kramer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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