There are several variables which affect diet quality and this review will focus on four major themes which emerge repeatedly throughout the literature. These themes are: overall diet quality, eating patterns and behaviours, fruit and vegetable intake and convenience food intake. In order to understand how diet quality is linked to academic performance, the literature was searched for relevant articles released in the last ten years. An analysis of terms identified the key words of: “student”, “university student”, “diet quality”, “health behaviour”, “eating pattern”, “academic performance” and “academic achievement”. These were used across the electronic data bases of Cochrane library, Web of science, Pubmed, CINAHL and Scopus.
Although preference was given to recent articles involving university students, the final search was expanded to incorporate sources of all years, as well as children and adolescent population groups.
The aim of this review is to critique current literature between diet quality and university student academic performance. Furthermore, it will assess current measures of diet quality, and the significance of other factors that contribute towards overall diet quality.
The food groups in the ‘Eat for health’ guidelines consist of:
- Vegetables and legumes
- Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, legumes/beans
- Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fiber varieties
- Low fat milk, yogurt, cheese and/or alternatives, mostly reduced fat.
They are based on existing knowledge of optimal dietary patterns and provide a clear nutritional benchmark. The indices vary in design from simple tools measuring adherence to dietary recommendations, to intricate analyses of macronutrient and micronutrient intakes. The main diet quality indices have scored food patterns in terms of alignment with key dietary recommendations and diversity of healthy choices within core food groups.
As the quality of food and drinks consumed have a significant impact on the health and well-being of individuals, better nutrition has a potential to improve public health outcomes. Performance management is always a concern for university administration bodies as they aim to provide the best environment for student growth and well-being.
The indices have separate nutritional components which are combined into a single ‘overall diet quality’ score. This incorporates cut-off values or ranges for the food groups and selected dietary variables (considered to be representative of healthy eating). The adequacy components use eight food types, and indicates areas in the diet which may need to be improved, and moderation highlights areas that should be decreased (total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, food types with empty calories).
The balance component involves calculating the macronutrient ratio and fatty acid ratio.
University academic performance is measured through grade point average, which incorporates the scores from all subjects during a study period. Identifying the factors that contribute towards academic performance has clear implications for university students. Diet quality is a health behaviour that may improve a student’s chances of furthering their academic career. The rate of enrolment for Australian universities is continuing to grow, with a large percentage being young adults (18 – 34 years old). A high proportion of students have an increase in independency, an altered support system and are perceived to be time poor.
University can be a highly stressful environment, where health behaviours change (health may not be a high priority). Amongst this group, there is an increased level of socio-economic disadvantage associated with the prevailing issues of food insecurity. This may be related to limited resources to source and prepare healthy foods, where individual diets decline in quality due to food insecurity.
The aim of this review is to evaluate the association between dietary quality and academic performance in university students. However, there is a limited amount of literature related to the population group of university students, which is why much of the following research relates to children and adolescents (school-aged students). Current research has established a relationship between overall diet quality and student academic achievement.