Factors across home, work, and school domains influence nutrition and physical activity behaviors of nontraditional college students
Nontraditional college students (older, part-time, and/or working) have less healthful nutrition and physical activity behaviors compared to traditional students, yet few health promotion efforts focus on nontraditional students. The purpose of this study was to use qualitative methods to explore factors affecting nutrition and physical activity behaviors of nontraditional students. Fourteen semi-structured individual interviews were conducted with nontraditional undergraduate students attending a large university. The sample had a median age of 25 (range, 21-64), 57% were men, 43% were racial/ethnic minorities, and 57% were employed (mean 22 hours/week). Data were coded using a systematic team-based approach. Consistent themes (mentioned by 4+ students) were identified and categorized into three domains: home, work, and school. Home (themes: neighborhood characteristics, family, partners), work (theme: work environment), and school (themes: cafeteria, vending machines) factors consistently influenced positive nutrition behaviors. Similarly, home (themes: neighborhood including safety, friends from home, partner,), work (theme: work environment), and school (themes: not having a car, campus structure, campus gym, friends at school) factors consistently influenced positive physical activity. Financial resources and perceptions of autonomy had influence across domains. Results indicate consistent influences on nutrition and physical activity behaviors across home, work, and school domains for nontraditional college students. Study findings suggest possible, and sometimes unconventional, intervention strategies to promote healthful eating and physical activity. For example, when cafeteria meal plans are not offered and financial constraints limit eating at the cafeteria, encouraging healthful choices from vending machines could be preferable to not eating at all.