Rana ZH, Frankenfeld CL, de Jonge L, Kennedy EJ, Bertoldo J, Short JL, Cheskin LJ. 2021. Dietary intake and representativeness of a diverse college-attending population compared with an age-matched US population. Nutrients 13:3810, https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13113810.
Young adults typically gain more dietary autonomy as they start college, though this can also present nutritional challenges; however, research on the generalizability of their dietary intake data is scarce. To address this representativeness concern, we compared food and nutrient intakes reported by college freshmen attending a large, diverse university to an age-matched sample from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). We studied 269 students 18–24 years old recruited through the Mason: Health Start Here (HSH) study, a population-based cohort study of college students. Diet was assessed using a diet history questionnaire (DHQ-III) and estimated with food source composition tables. The NHANES sample of 835 adults was the reference dataset. Reported dietary intakes were weighted and compared with national intakes via t-tests. We observed comparable energy, carbohydrate, fat, and protein intakes in both groups; however, the HSH cohort reported a higher density intake of most micronutrients than the NHANES sample. Differences between these samples in intake, mode of dietary assessment administration, and reactivity may help explain the differences detected. These results demonstrate that when appropriately contextualized in terms of methodology and potential sources of bias, single college studies can be useful for understanding nutrition in young adults more broadly.