• Users Online: 164
  • Home
  • Print this page
  • Email this page
Home About us Editorial board Ahead of print Current issue Search Archives Submit article Instructions Subscribe Contacts Login 

 Table of Contents  
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 11  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 51-57

Comparative study of dietary habits and sedentary lifestyle among the female medical and non-medical students in a Saudi Arabia University

1 Clinical Science Department, College of Medicine, Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
2 Medical Intern, College of Medicine, Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University, College of Medicine, Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Date of Submission14-May-2021
Date of Decision03-Jul-2021
Date of Acceptance27-Aug-2021
Date of Web Publication16-Oct-2021

Correspondence Address:
Norah Alharbi
College of Medicine, Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University, Riyadh
Saudi Arabia
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/aihb.aihb_77_21

Rights and Permissions

Introduction: Risk factors such as dietary habits and physical inactivity for non-communicable diseases are common and preventable. Thus the reduction in risk factors forms the epicentre of the management of non-communicable diseases. This study was carried out with an objective to compare dietary habits and sedentary lifestyle among the female health Sciences College and non-health college students in a Saudi Arabia University. Materials and Methods: The comparative cross-sectional study was carried out among 700 students belonging to both health sciences and non-health colleges at Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from October 2019 to December 2019. A self-administrated questionnaire regarding their diet habits and physical activity was shared with the participants. The distributive statistics were analysed and discussed. Results: Among the total 700 students, 363 students were from the college of health sciences, and 337 were from Non-health College students. The majority of students did not have the recommended meals, with most of them eating only two meals in a day, 51.2% in health sciences college students and 48.1% in non-health college students. About 29.9% of the college students were physically inactive, wherein 28.4% were among the college of health sciences, and 31.5% were non-health, college students, respectively. The difference in the two groups regarding primary source of daily food, the quantity of daily fluid intake, number of hours of sedentary life and the activity after food intake was statistically significant (P ≤ 0.05). Conclusion: This study showed that the eating and sedentary lifestyle habits in the two groups were almost the same, but the difference between the type of food, the quantity of fluid intake and time for physical activity did have significance statistically. These findings have to be further studied to understand the impact on health.

Keywords: Diet, female students, physical inactivity, risk behaviour

How to cite this article:
Alharbi N, Alshowibi R, Aljabri N, Alamri F, Alali F, Alajmi N, Almarshad A, Almasoudi S. Comparative study of dietary habits and sedentary lifestyle among the female medical and non-medical students in a Saudi Arabia University. Adv Hum Biol 2021;11:51-7

How to cite this URL:
Alharbi N, Alshowibi R, Aljabri N, Alamri F, Alali F, Alajmi N, Almarshad A, Almasoudi S. Comparative study of dietary habits and sedentary lifestyle among the female medical and non-medical students in a Saudi Arabia University. Adv Hum Biol [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Dec 4];11:51-7. Available from: https://www.aihbonline.com/text.asp?2021/11/4/51/328404

  Introduction Top

Chronic diseases contribute to around 60% of all deaths worldwide, but these are neglected on the public health agendas of most nations, including Saudi Arabia.[1] There is a 10% rise in the global burden of disease due to chronic diseases in low- and middle-income countries from 1990 to 2001.[2] Global dietary patterns are increasingly characterised by a greater intake of high caloric sugar sweeteners, salt, animal fats and edible oils. Meanwhile, energy expenditure is being reduced at work, at home and during leisure activities, affecting all age groups.[3] Studies have shown that sustained physical activity at moderate-to-vigorous levels yields multiple health benefits at all ages, including a lower risk of incident diabetes and hypertension.

As populations age, the importance of routine physical activity will play an increasingly important role in health promotion.[4] The WHO has determined three behaviours as health-risk behaviours; these factors are tobacco smoking, unhealthy dietary habits and physical inactivity.[5] The high-calorie intake coupled with a sedentary lifestyle in different age groups is leading to a substantial increase in obesity levels in the community with consequent early onset of diabetes, osteoarthritis and other non-communicable diseases.[6]

The dietary habits in Saudi Arabia have changed a lot in the past decades, correlated with the rapid socio-economic leap at government and population levels, and these drastic changes in lifestyles have affected across age groups, particularly in adolescents and college-going students.[7]

Some of the studies carried out in Saudi Arabia among male students studying in university revealed most of them eat two meals a day and regular snacks, fried foodstuffs and fewer vegetables from their regular food habits.[8] In addition, research studies and reviews carried out in Saudi and UAE suggest that skipping breakfast is popular among adolescents.[9],[10]

As the literature is scant on dietary habits of female university students, this study was taken up to study the comprehensive dietary habits and sedentary lifestyle among the students studying in health and non-health colleges in the university.

  Materials and Methods Top

This is a comparative cross-sectional study conducted on two groups of female students from the college of health sciences and non-health college students in the University of Princess Nourah Bint Abdurrahman from October to December 2019. It was a convenience sample based on the participants enrolled during the stipulated period of the study. The survey was done using a self-administrated health questionnaire in the local language (Arabic) to assess dietary and exercise habits. Participation was purely voluntary and anonymous. The questionnaire was validated by a pilot study, which showed that the survey was comprehensive and easy to be understood. The questionnaire consisted of 38 questions and was divided into three sections. The data collected included demographic details, anthropometric data, dietary habits and perceived barriers to eating a healthy diet, pattern of physical activity and sedentary lifestyle. The questionnaire and the consent form, together with the pilot study performed earlier, were independently validated and approved by two consultants. Ethical approval was obtained from the institutional review board with number19-0232. SPSS version 25.0. Armonk, Newyork:IBM Corp.) statistical software was used for data analysis. The non-parametric quantitative data were presented as frequencies, percentages, medians and ranges. Differences between the two groups were analysed using the Kruskal–Wallis test. Test of significance (Chi-square test) was done to determine the differences in unhealthy lifestyles between students from the college of health sciences and non-health college.

  Results Top

In the present study, a total of 700 students were enrolled, 363 (51.9%) health sciences students and 337 (48.1%) non-health college students. The participants were categorised into three groups; less than 25 years (93.9%), 25–34 years (5%) and more than 35 years (1.1%). The range of the age of the participants was 18–39 years, with the mean age being 21.1 ± 3.1. The younger aged students comprised 93.9%, 90.6% and 97.3% in total [Figure 1], in health sciences college and non-health college students group, respectively [Table 1].
Figure 1: Bar diagram showing the age distribution in the study participants in two groups.

Click here to view
Table 1: Demographic profile of the study groups

Click here to view

The body weight of the participants' ranged between 35 and 160 kg with a mean of 59.5 ± 13.8, and their height ranged from 140 to 185 cm with a mean of 159.1 ± 6.1. Almost half (54.6%) of the students had normal body mass index (BMI), while 13.9% were underweight and 31.6% were overweight, and this difference was not significant on testing (P > 0.05) [Table 1]. BMI of the total study group ranged from 14.2 to 62.5, and the mean was 23.5 ± 5.2.

According to the monthly income, three groups were formed in both groups - <1500 Saudi Riyals (SR) (74.3%), 1500–2000 SR (8.3%) and more than 2500 SR (17.4%). The monthly income of non-health college students was <1500 SR in 77.4%, while in health sciences college students, it was less (71.3%) [Table 1]. The monthly income was higher in the health sciences college students group. Among total participants, 38.4% spent 1000–1500 SR per month, followed by 35.9% who spent <1000 SR per month, and the least percentage spent 2001–2500 SR per month [Figure 2].
Figure 2: graphical representation of monthly expenditure in two groups.

Click here to view

The dietary habits were assessed using specific questions. It was observed that a large number of students had two meals in a day, 51.2% in health sciences college students and 48.1% in non-health college students. It was seen that a large number of students were irregular about their meal timings. Only 3.9% on an average, 3.6% among health sciences and 4.2% non-health college students, respectively, used to take their meals at regular fixed timings. The type of food preferred by the majority (52%) participants was non-specific, had homemade food, outside cooked food and canned food according to the convenience. Fruits and vegetables were consumed by only 6.9% and 10.7%, protein-rich food in 14.9% and 16.6% and mixed food consumed by 47.4% and 42.1% in health Sciences College and non-health college students respectively. Similarly, there was a large variation in the choice of beverages consumed by these participants. Almost half of them preferred coffee– 44.2% in total, 43.8% in health Sciences college and 44.8% in non-health college students were recorded [Table 2].
Table 2: Distribution of the dietary and physical activity based on the student's area of specialty

Click here to view

When enquired about the amount of water they drank in a day, almost 50.3% drank only <500 ml. While 4.1% and 7.1% of students from health and non-health colleges, respectively, drank more than 2 L of water per day and this was statistically significant (P = 0.030). Snacking is a common food habit seen among students, and our study participants recorded frequent snacking in 22.4% and rarely in 19% of students. One-time snacking was seen in 40.7% in total and 41.6% and 39.8% in medical and non-medical students, respectively. The lipid and preservatives containing foods were consumed 1–3 times per week in 67.6% in total and 70% and 65% in medical and non-medical, respectively. About 128 (18.2%) of students were consuming energy drinks such as Red Bull and Monster 1–3 times a week.

While most of the respondents, 282 (77.7%) and 246 (73%) of health and non-health college students, respectively, were not consuming any energy drinks. The majority of students, with 164 (45.2%) and 141 (34.7%) from health and non-health colleges, were consuming soft drinks such as Pepsi and coke 1–3 times per week [Table 2].

Regarding physical activity, 40.2% and 34.7% of medical and non-medical students did work out 1–2 times per week, respectively. Daily exercising was seen only in 12.1% of medical and 15.1% of non-medical students, while 29.9% in total did not exercise at all. All the participants were involved in walking (62.1%), running (8.3%), swimming (2.6%) and weight lifting (4.4%). The habit of watching television was less than an hour in the majority of participants (30.4%), and on an average, 8 h of use of television (TV) was seen in 3.6% [Figure 3] and [Figure 4]. The use of electronic devices was for more time in a day, that is 4–6 h/day, and this was reported in 35.8% and 33.8% health and non-health college students, respectively. Among all these variables duration of watching television was statistically significant (P = 0.023). After having food, the most common activity that the participants in our study do is watching TV (total – 36%, medical students – 33.1% and non-medical students – 39.2%), and only 6.7% of them do a workout after meals. This difference is significant (P = 0.036) [Table 2].
Figure 3: Graphical representation of the hours of watching television.

Click here to view
Figure 4: Physical activity of the two groups after eating.

Click here to view

  Discussion Top

The current data indicated the majority of students studying in the college of health sciences and Non-health College had unhealthy dietary habits and sedentary habits. The challenge of following a diet that complies with the recommendations is a global issue that affects college students of diverse eating patterns and from different backgrounds. Most of the students did not consume timely meals and skipped breakfast. About 51.2% of the health sciences and 48.1% of non-health sciences students were consuming only two meals per day, and the timing of the meals was also noted to be irregular. This similar pattern of meal consumption is seen with a study carried out in Saudi college[11] and other studies done in Lebanon and Bahrain.[12],[13] Whereas the study was done among medical students in a university in China, 83.6% and 79% of them were taking meals regularly and three times a day.[14]

Fruits and vegetables form the vital components of a healthy diet, and their adequate daily consumption adds fibre to the diet preventing major illness and chronic illness.[15] Dietary recommendations from the Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia, such as the Healthy Palm Saudi Dietary Guidelines,[16] aimed at increasing the intake of balanced diets, suggest that three to five servings of vegetables and two to four servings of fruit to be consumed daily. Low consumption of fruit and vegetable is noted in our findings, with only 6.9% and 10.7% of female students from health Science College and Non-health College, respectively. Our study findings were in comparison with a study carried out in Kuwait,[17] with only 11% of participants consuming fruits and vegetables. Similar studies were done on other university students of Saudi Arabia.[16],[18] Reported 30% and 23% of university students fruits and vegetables, which was much low compared to the WHO recommendations. The conventional Saudi Arabian recipes, consisting of fruits, vegetables, low-fat foods or whole grains, have been transformed into more westernised diets, high in fat, sugars and salt. Low consumption of fruits and vegetables reported in European countries in a study done by El Ansari et al.[19] in university students noted less than half of the respondents were eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables signifies the impact of urbanization and preference for fast foods over a healthy diet.

High consumption of foods rich in fats and calories is one of the reasons for the growing menace of obesity in Middle Eastern countries.[20] In our study, about 90% of students from both streams were found to be consuming fast foods and is similar to the other studies done in Tabuk and Majmaah region in Saudi Arabia.[11],[21] Lack of parenteral control, self-discipline, time, convenience, easy accessibility and affordability contribute to an overall increase in fast food consumption.[22],[23] About 95% of students chose to eat snacks between the meals and eat fried foods because of easy availability and taste. This finding of snacking at least once a day and preference of fried foods as snacks is in agreement with studies done in the UK and Finland.[24]

Our study noted about 58 (16%) and 70 (20.8%) of students from health and non-health colleges were consuming energy drinks such as Redbull and monster 1–3 times per week, whereas the majority of health and non-health students with 282 (77.7%) and 246 (73%) were not consuming any energy drinks. Aljaloud has reported higher consumption of energy drinks in students from a university in Riyadh.[25] Similar research carried out in the University of Arkansas and United States reported more than 90% of students were consuming sweetened beverages.[26]

Consumption of sweetened beverages significantly contributed to weight gain and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Our results revealed that the proportion of health science and non-health college students who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks daily was 17 (4.7%) and 21 (6.2%), respectively, which was much less compared to the prior study conducted in Qassim University that showed 21.9% of students consumed the sweetened beverages.[27]

In addition, the major risk factors for non-communicable diseases, including obesity, include sedentary behaviour and inactivity.[28] Previous studies have reported a high prevalence of physical inactivity in Saudi Arabia.[29] In the current study, 70.1% of students reported doing physical exercise at least once a week, whereas 29.9% of the participants did not exercise. This can be due to sociocultural changes in the community reflected in daily life because of westernisation, and the university also provides ample support in infrastructure and facilities such as in campus gymnasium, swimming pools and football ground. Meanwhile, it also revealed, students from non-health colleges were more physically active compared to their counterparts in health science colleges. In this respect, students from health science colleges were noted to have less physical activity, which is also reported in a study done in the United States by Yau and Potenza.[30]

Sedentary habits, demonstrated by long television viewing durations, playing computer games, using the Internet and cell phones, were extremely prevalent and reported in 79% of college students. Moreover, 35% of participants spend 4–6 h on the computer or electronic devices and 25.7% of students were spending around 10 h on mobiles using the Internet either for study or entertainment purposes. Al-Hazza[29] noted sedentary behaviours were 84% among female students with approximately 2 h screen time daily. At the same time, the screen time observed in the current study was 4 h daily. This alienation of students from physical activities is considered due to the lack of interest in physical activity, gender bias in society and academics being given more importance.

The long sitting habit, screen time on television and passive travel is negatively associated with the female gender when compared to the male gender in several studies.[31] The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey carried out in the United States from 2003 to 2016 noted significantly more screen time and usage of the Internet and watching TV in female students compared to male students.[32]


There are many studies where the risk behaviours are studied, but very few have done a comparative study among the medical and nonmedical students. Therefore, we had to take the convenience sample, which is the least recommended for research purposes. Furthermore, the anthropometric measures were self-reported and not recorded, which gives the opportunity to subject bias. The self-assessed questionnaire also is exposed to subject bias and distort the actual causal effects of risk behaviour in question. The study was conducted in a University setting, and only female students were included, so the findings cannot be extrapolated on all the adolescent females.


A healthy body needs healthy food in terms of adequacy, a nutritious and balanced diet. Thus including fruits and vegetables in daily meals, timely consumption of the meals and avoiding fast food is recommended. Our findings suggest that consuming homemade food and adequate fluid also helps to improve health. We suggest several awareness programmes and techniques of nutritional interventions such as educational lectures, web-based education and customised nutritional counselling. Physical activity should be encouraged among college students by providing infrastructure and facilities to the students and conduct competitions to motivate them. We suggest allotting hours per week in each college for physical activity.

  Conclusion Top

The majority of university students showed unhealthy dietary habits and poor physical activity regardless of the field of study. Furthermore, our finding indicates that the diet and the nutrition of future health professionals need to be planned. Medical students require to have college-based plans, strategic intensive university and counselling for their nutrition and physical activity, which will be reflected in better community health and well-being.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Beaglehole R, Ebrahim S, Reddy S, Voûte J, Leeder S; Chronic Disease Action Group. Prevention of chronic diseases: A call to action. Lancet 2007;370:2152-7.  Back to cited text no. 1
Lopez AD, Mathers CD, Ezzati M, Jamison DT, Murray CJ. Global and regional burden of disease and risk factors, 2001: Systematic analysis of population health data. Lancet 2006;367:1747-57.  Back to cited text no. 2
Popkin BM. Global changes in diet and activity patterns as drivers of the nutrition transition. Nestle Nutr Workshop Ser Pediatr Program 2009;63:1-10.  Back to cited text no. 3
Woodcock J, Edwards P, Tonne C, Armstrong BG, Ashiru O, Banister D, et al. Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: Urban land transport. Lancet 2009;374:1930-43.  Back to cited text no. 4
WHO. Chronic Diseases and Their Common Risk Factors. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2005.  Back to cited text no. 5
Ng M, Fleming T, Robinson M, Thomson B, Graetz N, Margono C, et al. Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980-2013: A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. Lancet 2014;384:766-81.  Back to cited text no. 6
Mahfouz AA, Abdelmoneim I, Khan MY, Daffalla AA, Diab MM, Al-Gelban KS, et al. Obesity and related behaviors among adolescent school boys in Abha City, Southwestern Saudi Arabia. J Trop Pediatr 2008;54:120-4.  Back to cited text no. 7
Al-Rethaiaa AS, Fahmy AE, Al-Shwaiyat NM. Obesity and eating habits among college students in Saudi Arabia: A cross sectional study. Nutr J 2010;9:39.  Back to cited text no. 8
Bin Zaal AA, Musaiger AO, D'Souza R. Dietary habits associated with obesity among adolescents in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Nutr Hosp 2009;24:437-44.  Back to cited text no. 9
Al-Hazzaa HM, Abahussain NA, Al-Sobayel HI, Qahwaji DM, Musaiger AO. Lifestyle factors associated with overweight and obesity among Saudi adolescents. BMC Public Health 2012;12:354.  Back to cited text no. 10
El Qudah JM Al-Omran H, Abu-Alsoud B, Al-Shek YT. Nutritional status among a sample of Saudi college students. Curr Res J Biol Sci 2012;4:557-62.  Back to cited text no. 11
Yahia N, Achkar A, Abdallah A, Rizk S. Eating habits and obesity among Lebanese university students. Nutr J 2008;7:32.  Back to cited text no. 12
Musaiger AO, Awadhalla MS, Al-Mannai M, AlSawad M, Asokan GV. Dietary habits and sedentary behaviors among health science university students in Bahrain. Int J Adolesc Med Health 2017;29:1-6.  Back to cited text no. 13
Sakamaki R, Toyama K, Amamoto R, Liu CJ, Shinfuku N. Nutritional knowledge, food habits and health attitude of Chinese university students – A cross sectional study. Nutr J 2005;4:4.  Back to cited text no. 14
Tavani A, La Vecchia C. Fruit and vegetable consumption and cancer risk in a Mediterranean population. Am J Clin Nutr 1995;61:1374S-7S.  Back to cited text no. 15
Puru S, Eideh A, Albayoudh A, Alshammari E. Fruit and vegetable consumption trends among the female university students in Saudi Arabia. Eur Sci J 2014;10:223-37.  Back to cited text no. 16
Dehghan M, Al Hamad N, Yusufali A, Nusrath F, Yusuf S, Merchant AT. Development of a semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire for use in United Arab Emirates and Kuwait based on local foods. Nutr J 2005;4:18.  Back to cited text no. 17
Al-Otaibi HH. The pattern of fruit and vegetable consumption among Saudi university students. Glob J Health Sci 2013;6:155-62.  Back to cited text no. 18
El Ansari W, Stock C, Mikolajczyk RT. Relationships between food consumption and living arrangements among university students in four European countries – A cross-sectional study. Nutr J 2012;11:28.  Back to cited text no. 19
Musaiger AO. Overweight and obesity in the Eastern Mediterranean Region: Can we control it? East Mediterr Health J 2004;10:789-93.  Back to cited text no. 20
Ansari T, Alghamdi T, Alzahrani M, Alfhaid F, Sami W, Aldahash BA, et al. Risky health behaviors among students in Majmaah University, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. J Family Community Med 2016;23:133-9.  Back to cited text no. 21
Deliens T, Clarys P, De Bourdeaudhuij I, Deforche B. Determinants of eating behaviour in university students: A qualitative study using focus group discussions. BMC Public Health 2014;14:53.  Back to cited text no. 22
Shaban L, Alkazemi D. Trends in fast-food consumption among Kuwaiti Youth. Int J Prev Med 2019;10:44.  Back to cited text no. 23
[PUBMED]  [Full text]  
O'Connor L, Brage S, Griffin SJ, Wareham NJ, Forouhi NG. The cross-sectional association between snacking behaviour and measures of adiposity: The Fenland Study, UK. Br J Nutr 2015;114:1286-93.  Back to cited text no. 24
Aljaloud SO. Use of energy drinks among college students in Saudi Arabia. Am J Sports Sci 2016;4:49-54.  Back to cited text no. 25
West DS, Bursac Z, Quimby D, Prewitt TE, Spatz T, Nash C, et al. Self-reported sugar-sweetened beverage intake among college students. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2006;14:1825-31.  Back to cited text no. 26
Al-Harbi N, Farajat M. Health-risk behaviors among medical students at Qassim University, Saudi Arabia: A prevalence study. Int J Public Health Saf 2019;4:2.  Back to cited text no. 27
Musaiger AO, Al-Hazzaa HM. Prevalence and risk factors associated with nutrition-related noncommunicable diseases in the Eastern Mediterranean region. Int J Gen Med 2012;5:199-217.  Back to cited text no. 28
Al-Hazzaa HM. Prevalence of physical inactivity in Saudi Arabia: A brief review. East Mediterr Health J 2004;10:663-70.  Back to cited text no. 29
Yau YH, Potenza MN. Stress and Eating Behaviors. Minerva Endocrinologica. U.S. National Library of Medicine; 2013. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4214609/. [Last accessed on 2020 Apr 15].  Back to cited text no. 30
O'Donoghue G, Perchoux C, Mensah K, Lakerveld J, van der Ploeg H, Bernaards C, et al. A systematic review of correlates of sedentary behaviour in adults aged 18-65 years: A socio-ecological approach. BMC Public Health 2016;16:163.  Back to cited text no. 31
Yang L, Cao C, Kantor ED, Nguyen LH, Zheng X, Park Y, et al. Trends in sedentary behavior among the US population, 2001-2016. JAMA 2019;321:1587-97.  Back to cited text no. 32


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4]

  [Table 1], [Table 2]


Similar in PUBMED
   Search Pubmed for
   Search in Google Scholar for
 Related articles
Access Statistics
Email Alert *
Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)

  In this article
Materials and Me...
Article Figures
Article Tables

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded26    
    Comments [Add]    

Recommend this journal