Young adulthood is a critical time for establishing self-care habits that impact mental and physical health, as well as the risk of developing non-communicable diseases. However, cross-sectional data suggest less than half of students eat a balanced diet, less than 60% meet physical activity recommendations, and 48% have considered leaving their course due to their mental health. Furthermore, evidence suggests that both physical and mental health can be linked to academic performance.
University students represent 2.5 million individuals in the UK alone, and around 50% of school leavers now continue to higher education. This
rapidly increasing graduate population often have poor dietary and exercise habits that were fostered at university. Universities are uniquely positioned to positively influence the development of healthier lifestyle choices because they are the providers of some or all of an individual’s education, accommodation, recreation, diet and exercise provision.
Timing of food intake influences how ingested nutrients are processed, resulting in different effects on energy metabolism, appetite, and physical activity. This is due to endogenous circadian rhythms, which can also be affected by sleep patterns and exercise. “Mis-aligned” eating detrimentally affects postprandial metabolism, increasing the risk of several chronic diseases such as overweight/obesity and type-2 diabetes. There is also a well-established relationship between university enrolment and weight gain, termed the ‘Freshman 5 Pound’ in America, and preliminary data from our Student Health Study suggest a similar trend in the UK.
To date, much of the published research on student populations focuses on single health conditions or behavioural risk factors, is cross sectional in nature, and /or lacks long-term follow up. The Student Health Study is a longitudinal, interdisciplinary project which has so far collected data on the health, and associated behavioural risk factors, of thousands of students over the past 3 years.
To progress this research, the PhD candidate will work as part of a multidisciplinary team of academics, researchers, students, and service providers. They will develop and incorporate knowledge and expertise from areas including physiology, nutrition, behaviour change and psychology to develop nutritional interventions around time restricted feeding aimed at improving the health of students. We will use PPI based models to ensure student engagement and participation when developing potential interventions. We will then undertake feasibility and pilot studies of the proposed interventions, before moving towards a full randomised control trial of the finalised intervention(s).