Why do we choose unhealthy food?

Being armed with the knowledge of what we should eat might not be enough to win the battle against making poor food choices, according to University of the Sunshine Coast graduating business student Tegan Piggford.

Tegan surveyed 310 USC students aged 18-24 last year and found many of the students made unhealthy food choices despite being well aware the food would not meet their dietary requirements.

The Honours student said her research showed that price and convenience often outweighed health as the main reasons for food choices among the university students she surveyed.

Tegan said a lack of time and money among students contributed to poor food choices which could lead to health problems and obesity.

"The proportion of people who are overweight and obese has increased considerably over the past 10 years, sparking interest in the food choices that people make,’’ she said.

"According to dietary guidelines, each day, adults should eat at least: five serves of vegetables; two serves of fruit; four serves of bread, cereal, pasta and noodles; two serves of milk, yoghurt and cheese; and one serve of meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts and legumes."

"The findings of my research confirm that there is a considerable gap between dietary recommendations and actual food consumption in university students aged 18 to 24 years,’’ she said.

Tegan’s study – under the supervision of Associate Professor Debra Harker, Dr Maria Raciti and Associate Professor Michael Harker from the Faculty of Business – showed that almost all respondents (98.7 percent) did not achieve the recommended dietary guidelines on a typical day.

"Only 10 percent of respondents achieved the recommended daily vegetable intake,’’ she said. "With regard to the food group consisting of bread, cereal, pasta and noodles, almost one quarter of respondents (21.6 percent) consumed the recommended number of serves.

She said about 60 percent achieved the recommended daily fruit intake, 74.5 percent consumed the recommended number of serves of milk, yoghurt and cheese and 93.9 percent consumed the recommended intake of meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts and legumes on a typical day.

Tegan said her research highlighted the massive gap between dietary recommendations and actual consumption, particularly with regard to vegetables.

"Ironically, respondents were found to hold positive attitudes towards healthy eating,’’ she said. "So why aren’t they getting enough of the right foods?

"Put simply, more pressing factors appear to stand in the way of healthy eating. The key factor found to motivate students’ food choices was ‘price’, followed by ‘convenience’, then ‘health’.

"This is not surprising as university students have low incomes and lack time to purchase and prepare food.

"If a greater proportion of young adults are to achieve the dietary guidelines, then changes need to be made."

One of the key changes Tegan recommended was the development and marketing of foods that were not only healthy but also low-cost and highly convenient.


She called for a greater provision of food choices at campus eateries that paralleled the dietary guidelines.

"Considering the findings of this research, the design of the price component would require food choices to be low-cost or better perceived value," she said.

"Moreover, food choices need to be highly convenient … delivering the benefits and costs at the right location at the right time."

Tegan also said a marketing campaign was needed to strengthen attitudes toward healthy eating.

Editor's Note: Original news release can be found here.