Eating practices and nutritional status of second year medical students in three state universities.

Fala Wva-Akain Kah Bede (
Internal Medicine and Specialties, Faculty of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences,University of Yaounde I
September, 2014


Nutritional status could be seen as the combination of an individual’s health as influenced by intake and utilization of nutrients and determined from information obtained by physical, biochemical and dietary studies. Eating habits refers to why and how people eat, which foods they eat, and with whom they eat, as well as the ways people obtain, store, use, and discard food. Poor nutritional status can be defined by the states of under-nutrition or over-nutrition. Many investigations have shown that among young people there is a high prevalence of malnutrition, widespread prevalence of risk factors of cardiovascular system diseases and metabolic diseases. The main reasons for these disturbances are inadequate food intake and poor dietary habits. Universities can be an ideal setting for preventive intervention programs particularly medical schools where future health personnel are trained. There is limited information correlating eating practices and malnutrition among medical school students in Cameroon. It was in in this light that the current study “Eating Practices and Nutritional Status of Second Year Medical Students in State Universities” was carried out.

Our main objective was to assess the eating practices and nutritional status of second year medical students in Cameroon state universities. Specifically, we sought to: describe their eating practices by use of questionnaire, obtain anthropometric measurements (weight, height, Body mass index (BMI), waist circumference (WC), waist-hip ratio (WHR), triceps skin fold thickness (TSF), mid-arm circumference (MAC) and mid-arm muscle circumference (MAMC)) and determine prevalence rates of underweight, overweight and obesity among these students as well as investigate association between BMI and eating practices.

To attain our objectives, we carried out a cross-sectional descriptive and analytic study from December 2013 to March 2014 involving 203 consenting students in Faculty of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences of the University of Yaoundé I (FMBS-UYI), Faculties of Health Sciences of the universities of Bamenda (FHS-UBa) and Buea (FHS-UB). The principal research instrument was a three-part questionnaire, designed to collect information on socio-demographic profile, eating practices, and anthropometric parameters. The socio-demographic and eating practices section were self-administered with anthropometric measurements done by the researcher. Anthropometric data involved measuring height and weight from which BMI was calculated, TSF and MUAC from which MAMC was also calculated and WC and hip circumference from which WHR was calculated. Data was analysed using SPSS 18.0. Statistical significance was set at p≤ 0.05.

Out of the 203 students 44.3% were males and 55.7% were females. The mean age was 20.8±1.6yrs, all students were not married, and 90.6% were Christians with 9.4% Muslims. Most students had a monthly allowance of less than 20.000 FRS and 53.2% lived in rented rooms or “studio.” Most students (54.5%) had two meals a day, breakfast was the most skipped meal (61.4% of students regularly did not consume it), and supper was the meal most consumed by the students (78.7%). The most important reason for skipping meals by the student was that they were too busy (44.8%). Most students had their meals at home while 46.0% ate their meals alone. Daily intake of milk, fruits, vegetable, and meat were low (6.2%, 4.3%, 20.0%, and 21.3% respectively). Alcohol consumption was frequent among these students with 63.0% who did drink alcohol. Snacking was common among these students as 40.8% took snacks daily. Most students (74.4%) correctly identified the components of a balanced diet. According to the different anthropometric measurements, the means (±standard deviation) of weight and BMI were 65.09±9.45kg and 23.12±3.12kg/m2 respectively. The means of the TSF, MUAC, MAMC and WC were 15.88± 7.66mm, 26.87±2.53cm, 21.88±2.80cm and 77.46±8.12cm respectively. The prevalence rates of underweight, overweight and obesity among second year medical students were 4.9%, 21.6%, and 3.0%. Using waist-circumference (WC) the number of students at risk of developing metabolic syndrome (WC ≥94.0cm for males and WC ≥80.0cm for females) was 21.2% while waist-hip ratio measured gave a prevalence of 29.5% for android obesity (WHR≥0.90 for males and WHR≥0.85 for females). The BMI status of students in our study was associated with sex (p=0.026), region of origin (p=0.004), supper consumption (p=0.011). Religion (p=0.077) and alcohol consumption (p=0.063) showed close association (though not significant) with BMI

From our study the following conclusions were drawn:
•The eating practices of second year medical students are characterised by poor eating practices.

•The nutritional status of the students based on BMI calculations was poor (29.5% had BMI range out of normal).

•The nutritional status of the students was influenced by eating practices and socio-demographic characteristics.

•To faculty students that BMI calculation is a simple and effective way of monitoring nutritional status so they are encouraged to develop the habit of calculating their BMI regular to monitor their nutritional status. Students’ union should also play a role by disseminating information on the value of good nutritional practices by social media and other means.

•To the authorities of medical faculties to create where lacking and strengthen were existing; nutrition awareness programs by organising symposia on importance of nutrition.

•To the research community to do larger and detailed studies on nutritional inadequacies and practices so as to better appreciate the situation and come up with solutions as well as understand why despite the fact that these students know what constitutes a balanced diet they still do not have balanced diets.