1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
Good nutrition is necessary for good health and concern with food is important if certain illnesses are to be prevented. Good nutrition is closely associated with good health – how you look and feel, how well you perform mentally and physically at work or at home. The body is made up of many materials. These can be supplied by a wide variety of foods to ensure good health. The body is, broadly speaking, the product of its nutrition. You are what you eat. Therefore, it is important that daily decision-making on this important aspect of health be properly guided and should not be based on wrong influences. A person’s diet is made up of the food they eat. Nutrition is the way that food people eat nourishes their bodies. Good nutrition means your body is getting all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals it needs to work at its best level. Eating a healthy diet is your main way to get good nutrition. These diets should maintain growth, encourage health and be satisfying, as nutrition for undergraduates is important to the way their bodies are shaped for the rest of their lives. Nutrition is what you eat and how your body uses it. It is your total daily food intake transformed into physical appearance, energy, growth and countless other body functions. Happily, your nutrition is in your hands. Your decisions really count when it comes to the food you eat. Whether you buy and prepare food to be eaten at home or you eat out, you are faced with important food choices.
The basic function of food is to keep us alive and healthy to grow and to reproduce. Food contains nutrients – components that contribute to, and in some cases uniquely provide for, biochemical and physiological functions in the body. Foods may also include non-absorbed components which may influence bowel health and function e.g. some phenolic compounds such as tannins and classes of non-starch polysaccharides (e.g. cellulose). Food may also include contaminants from unusual soil types or from industrial pollution. Heavy metals, radioactive isotopes, and microbial contamination all have potential negative health effects. Foods contain a variety of compounds which can be absorbed and which have important biological effects e.g. caffeine.
Different age groups have different nutritional needs and people’s diets should meet these specific needs. For example, the nutritional needs and diet of a pregnant woman are different from those of an elderly man. Likewise, an infant needs a different diet and nutrition than a teenager. Each of us has different nutritional needs, and these needs are constantly changing. Children’s needs are dictated, in part, by their growth patterns. Adult needs change with age. One set of rules simply cannot apply to everyone. In addition, factors such as a person’s height and current weight, current health status, and activity level also affect what kind of nutrients they need and how much they need.
Optimal nutrition is critical for the development, growth and overall health of undergraduates. It helps ensure optimal cognitive and physical development, prevent sickness and illness and promote overall well-being (Nicklas and Johnson,2004). Despite the benefits of healthy eating, only 30% of youths meet the dietary recommendations for fruits, grains, meat and dairy and 36% for vegetables (Munoz, Kerbs-Smith, Ballard & Cleveland, 1997), based on the Food Guide Pyramid. Further, 16% of youths did not meet any recommendations, and a merger 1% met all recommendations (Munoz et el, 1997).
School-based programs can play an important role in promoting healthy lifestyles and diets among students --- through “direct” and “indirect” avenues. These include formal health and nutrition curriculums and school lunch programs and other provisions of foods, respectively (Passmore, 1996). Several studies have shown that youths are interested in learning about nutrition and generally believe nutrition is important to good health (Murphy, Youatt, Hoerr, Sawyer & Andrews, 1994). The general topic to be discussed in this research plan is nutrition, undergraduates’ eating habits and what imparts it has on them. The diet an undergraduate has can either have a positive or negative impart on his well-being. This research will look into the roles nutrition play in the all round well-being and performance of undergraduates using the University of Benin undergraduates as a case study.
1.2 STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
Good nutrition requires a balance of food, vitamins and minerals (from eating a healthy diet) and physical activity. Overweight and obesity can result if things get out of balance ---such as eating too much food, not getting enough physical activity or having too much of one or more nutrients in the diet. Health risks associated with being overweight or obese include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma and arthritis, among other risks. Good nutrition is a critical step in helping control your weight and preventing the risks that come from being overweight or obese. The health of undergraduates has been slowly deteriorating over the years and this is not a new phenomenon that educators and parents have to address. The challenges associated with making undergraduates healthier are enormous and have posed problems for political and school officials as well as educators in the front lines of this struggle. Peterson (2008) states that lack of physical activity, diet, parental involvement are all factors that are affecting the health of students today. Educators can have a direct impact on many of these areas and it is important to have a well-developed understanding of the contributing factors so appropriate decisions about interventions can be made, especially if they affect parental involvement. It is important to note that contributing factors to the health of undergraduates is not limited to in-school only. They move beyond in-school to before and after school as well. The health of undergraduates has declined over the years. Research has shown very little improvement over the past couple of years.
1.3 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
Based on the statement of problem, the researcher seeks to answer the following questions:
1. What roles does nutrition play in the general well-being of undergraduates?
2. What nutritional problems are most common among undergraduates?
3. What factors affect the nutritional level of undergraduates?
4. What should constitute the diets of undergraduates?
5. What suggestions does the literature provide for undergraduates to eat healthy for optimal well-being?
1.4 PURPOSE OF THE STUDY
The objectives of this study are:
1. To find out the various roles nutrition has to play in the general well-being of undergraduates.
2. To discover what factors will either favour or/and adversely affect the nutritional status of undergraduates.
3. To find out the problems associated with improper nutrition.
4. To determine how much knowledge undergraduates possess about nutrition and how it affects their well-being.
5. To investigate the roles undergraduates have to play in their general well-being in terms of food habits.
1.5 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
The essence of this study is to make available useful information on proper nutrition to parents, educators, school officials and students themselves. Educators can become more aware of the nutritional problems surrounding the health of their students and implement better practices during school sessions. Parents can take this information, and implement and provide healthier food options at home during and after the school year ends. School officials can implement programs and adopt school-wide programs that will benefit the overall health of their students. Students can learn food habits that will contribute to their wellness and development.
1.6 SCOPE OF STUDY
This study was designed to reach as many undergraduates as possible. However, due to financial constraints, limited time and accessibility, it was restricted to undergraduates in the University of Benin, Benin-City, Edo State, Nigeria.
Major limiting factors of this research project include:
1. Inability of the researcher to lay her hands on printed literature resources as either books on this topic are unavailable in the library or they are outdated i.e. they are not recent publications.
2. Articles found in various electronic search engines were used if they were available on-line. All online resources are not as durable as literature resources available from the library.
3. Limited time made the researcher settle for the use of a small sample size; it led the researcher to a restricted geographical coverage of undergraduates in the University of Benin only.
4. Insufficient funds led to a production of a limited number of questionnaires. The epileptic nature of electric power supply was also a challenge.
1.8 DEFINITION OF TERMS
NUTRITION: The intake of food considered in relation to your body’s dietary needs.
UNDERGRADUATE: A university student who has not yet taken a first degree.
WELL-BEING: A good, healthy or comfortable state.
FOOD HABITS: The behaviour acquired by people towards food. This includes frequency and pattern of eating.
NUTRIENTS: Food substances providing nourishments.
FOOD GUIDE PYRAMID: A guide for achieving the nutrients needed for optimal growth and healthy weights.