Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics



Content Description

1 online resource (xx, 148 pages) : color illustrations.

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Donna Armstrong

Committee Members

Akiko Hosler, Helmut Hirsch


dietary practices, ecological literacy, nutrition education, nutrition knowledge, public health eating recommendations, sustainability, College students, Food habits, Sustainable living

Subject Categories

Epidemiology | Public Health | Sustainability


University students (N=1,924) at a large public university were surveyed to measure their nutrition knowledge, dietary practices, and ecological literacy. A quantitative measure of ecological literacy was developed for this purpose, reflecting familiarity with nature, awareness of one's personal impact on local and global ecologies, and personal lifestyle choices that demonstrate civic responsibility for the natural environment. The association between nutrition knowledge and dietary practices was compared to the association between ecological literacy and dietary practices. The results showed that: (1) many students were not familiar with public health eating recommendations and did not eat recommended amounts of foods, particularly grains, vegetables and meats; (2) students who were more familiar with dietary recommendations were more likely to eat the recommended amount of foods, as demonstrated by the finding that students who reported correct knowledge of vegetable eating recommendations were 4.2 times as likely as others to report eating the recommended number of vegetables; (3) students who demonstrated greater ecological literacy reported healthier dietary practices than others, even after adjusting for the influence of sex, class year, student major discipline and nutrition knowledge; (4) variations in ecological literacy, nutrition knowledge and dietary practices were not related to student major discipline; (5) cooking, eating fresh foods, and growing a vegetable garden were found to serve as mutually supportive behaviors; (6) though the large majority of students (70-85%) expressed strong concern for major environmental issues, corresponding lifestyle practices to support those issues were uncommon. These results suggest that healthy dietary practices may best be achieved through combined conventional nutrition education and improved ecological literacy. Further, public health interventions that improve ecological literacy will also improve the environment, through development of lifestyle practices that benefit and preserve local and global environments, and may also increase the practice of civic responsibility. The college curriculum at this university did not appear to influence nutrition knowledge, ecological literacy or dietary practices. Public health interventions to improve student ecological literacy and dietary practices are suggested, and may include programs such as campus food gardens, composting, and cooking classes that would be best offered as general education requirements.