Disparities in Overweight and Obesity Among US College Students

The college setting presents an important opportunity for health promotion during a critical developmental stage for weight gain. This study is the first to examine prevalence, trends and social disparities in overweight, obesity and class II obesity in a nationally representative sample of college students in the United States. Data were derived from a sample of 24,613 students below 25 years of age surveyed in 1993 and 1999.

Key Findings:

  • The prevalence of overweight among the students increased between the two study periods.
  • Males were more likely to be overweight and obese than females, but no gender difference existed in class II obesity rates.
  • Socioeconomic position was associated with overweight, obesity and class II obesity, with a stronger association apparent among females.
  • Both male and female African-American students showed higher rates of overweight and obesity relative to other racial/ethnic groups.
  • Students were significantly more likely to be overweight or obese in their later years of college.

The authors note that physical activity and television viewing have been associated with overweight and obesity, but are not likely to be driving the changes in body weight in the college student population over time, and do not appear to account for between-group differences in body mass. Future research should focus on the influence of television viewing content as well as dietary intake and the food environment at college.