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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Obesity and eating habits among college students in Saudi Arabia: a cross sectional study

Abdallah S Al-Rethaiaa1*, Alaa-Eldin A Fahmy2 and Naseem M Al-Shwaiyat3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Clinical Laboratory, College of Health Sciences at Rass, Qassim University, Saudi Arabia

2 Department of Anatomy, Faculty of Medicine, Ain Shams University, Egypt

3 Department of Clinical Nutrition, College of Health Sciences at Rass, Qassim University, Saudi Arabia

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Nutrition Journal 2010, 9:39  doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-39

Published: 19 September 2010

Abstract

Background

During the last few decades, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) experienced rapid socio-cultural changes caused by the accelerating economy in the Arabian Gulf region. That was associated with major changes in the food choices and eating habits which, progressively, became more and more "Westernized". Such "a nutritional transition" has been claimed for the rising rates of overweight and obesity which were recently observed among Saudi population. Therefore, the objectives of the current work were to 1) determine the prevalence of overweight and obesity in a sample of male college students in KSA and 2) determine the relationship between the students' body weight status and composition and their eating habits.

Methods

A total of 357 male students aged 18-24 years were randomly chosen from College of Health Sciences at Rass, Qassim University, KSA for the present study. A Self-reported questionnaire about the students' eating habits was conducted, and their body mass index (BMI), body fat percent (BF%), and visceral fat level (VFL) were measured. Data were analyzed using SPSS statistical software, and the Chi-square test was conducted for variables.

Results

The current data indicated that 21.8% of the students were overweight and 15.7% were obese. The total body fat exceeded its normal limits in 55.2% of the participants and VFL was high in 21.8% of them. The most common eating habits encountered were eating with family, having two meals per day including breakfast, together with frequent snacks and fried food consumption. Vegetables and fruits, except dates, were not frequently consumed by most students. Statistically, significant direct correlations were found among BMI, BF% and VFL (P < 0.001). Both BMI and VFL had significant inverse correlation with the frequency of eating with family (P = 0.005 and 0.007 respectively). Similar correlations were also found between BMI and snacks consumption rate (P = 0.018), as well as, between VFL and the frequency of eating dates (P = 0.013).

Conclusions

Our findings suggest the need for strategies and coordinated efforts at all levels to reduce the tendency of overweight, obesity and elevated body fat, and to promote healthy eating habits in our youth.