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Digital Health and Telephone Interventions to Increase Healthy Eating and Physical Activity among Students at Institutions of Higher Education

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This is a brief summary of the CPSTF finding and systematic review evidence for Nutrition and Physical Activity: Digital Health and Telephone Interventions to Increase Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Among Students at Institutions of Higher Education. Read a complete summary of the systematic review and CPSTF Finding and access a list of suggested guidelines and toolkits.

This information is also availble in a PDF version pdf icon [PDF - 291 KB].

Summary of Community Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation

The Community Preventive Services Task Force (CPSTF) recommends digital health and telephone interventions at institutions of higher education designed to improve healthy eating and physical activity for students interested in improving these behaviors.

Major Findings

The CPSTF finding is based on evidence from a systematic review of 17 studies (search period January 2009 to February 2021). A college student looks at her mobile phone.

  • Evidence showed students in the intervention group ate more fruits and vegetables, consumed less fat, and improved or maintained their weight.
  • Interventions demonstrated that students who met or exceeded recommended levels of physical activity at baseline maintained physical activity levels.1

What are Digital Health and Telephone Interventions to Increase Healthy Eating and Physical Activity?

These interventions aim to increase healthy eating and physical activity using websites, mobile apps, text messages, emails, or one-on-one telephone calls. Interventions include educational information plus one or more of the following: coaching or counseling from trained professionals; self-monitoring to record healthy eating, physical activity or weight; goal setting; or computer-generated feedback that provides tailored information. Interventions also may include social support from peers or motivational strategies such as incentives, rewards, and gaming techniques.

Why is This Important?

  • The transition to college life often leads to changes in dietary choices and physical activity due to living independently for the first time.2
  • In a 2012 study, over a 4-year college career, the percentage of students classified as having overweight or obesity increased from 18% to 31%.3
  • Internet use among young adults is nearly universal, and over 40% of young adults attend an institution of higher education. Effective digital health interventions have the potential to improve dietary behaviors and physical activity among students.4-6

Learn More

CDC, Nutrition External Web Site Icon

CDC, Physical Activity External Web Site Icon

References

1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: 2018.

2 Abraham S, Noriega Brooke R, Shin JY. College students’ eating habits and knowledge of nutritional requirements. J Nutr Hum Health 2018;2(1):13-7.

3 Gropper SS, Simmons KP, Connell LJ, Ulrich PV. Changes in body weight, composition, and shape: a 4‐year study of college students. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2012;37:1118‐23.

4 Pew Research Center. Internet/Broadband Fact Sheet, 2021. Date Accessed 7/2/2021. Available from URL: https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/internet-broadband/.

5 National Center for Education Statistics. Digest of Education Statistics, 2020. Date Accessed 7/2/2021. Available from URL: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d20/tables/dt20_302.60.asp.

6 Racette SB, Deusinger SS, Strube MF, et al. Weight changes, exercise, and dietary patterns during freshman and sophomore years of college. J Am Coll Health 2005; 53:6, 245-51.


Established in 1996 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Community Preventive Services Task Force (CPSTF) is an independent, nonfederal panel of public health and prevention experts whose members are appointed by the director of CDC. CPSTF provides information for a wide range of decision makers on programs, services, and other interventions aimed at improving population health. Although CDC provides administrative, scientific, and technical support for CPSTF, the recommendations developed are those of CPSTF and do not undergo review or approval by CDC. Find more information at www.thecommunityguide.org.