The focus of this research paper will be on assessing the nutritional quality of the available dining options across the Arizona State University Campus by assessing the healthfulness, cost and availability of dining options. Due to the lifestyle changes that come along with attending college, first time full-time freshmen are at an increased risk for gaining weight and developing poor lifestyle choices that will follow them into adulthood. Freshman who chose to live in an on-campus dorm are required to enroll in a meal plan giving them access to dining halls as well as on-campus convenience and fast casual restaurants.
The on-campus dining options across the Tempe and Downtown campuses were evaluated using two established measures: The Full Restaurant Evaluation Supporting a Healthy Dining Environment Audit (FRESH) & The Nutrition Environment Measures Survey (NEMS). A total of 31 on-campus dining facilities including twenty-two fast-casual restaurants, five markets and four dining halls were evaluated for this study. The results from these surveys assisted in determining if the nutritional environment provided by Arizona State supports healthy eating behaviors or if it incentives students to make poor nutritional choices.
Of the 21 restaurants evaluated using the FRESH survey, scores ranged from 33% to 63% of the total points possible. The maximum total score was awarded to Engrained on the Tempe Campus with a score of 91 and the minimum score was received by the Domino’s Pizza on the Downtown Campus with a score of 48. Of the four dining halls evaluated, the highest total score was 85 and the lowest was 79, indicating low variability amongst the dining halls. Out of the 22 restaurants evaluated using the NEMS-R, 32% fell within the lowest of the four quartiles of score distribution, 36% fell within the second lowest, 27% fell within the third quartile and a mere 4%, accounting for one restaurant (Engrained), fell within the top tier.
The loss of points amongst the restaurants and dining halls is mostly attributed to lack of fresh sides, lack of healthy entrees and barriers to healthy decision making. The restaurants that were classified as the healthiest options had limited hours of operations past 4 pm on weekdays and were not open on weekends. Additionally, the entrees at these restaurants averaged between $4-6 more expensive than those that were classified as the unhealthiest. The unhealthiest options also had the most hours of operation as they were open past 2 am every day of the week.
Overall, the campus dining environment provided by Arizona State University does not enable students to make healthy nutritional choices. In a setting where most students living on-campus do not have transportation or a full kitchen to prepare their own food in, a majority of their meals are consumed via on-campus dining options. Based on the overall assessment of healthy options, the barriers to healthy decision making, the hours of availability and the cost associated with healthier alternatives, the campus environment assists students in making poor nutritional choices.