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Knowledge, attitude, and practices regarding dietary habits among medical and non-medical university students

Alghamdi, Saeed Ali1,#; Alqarni, Abdulaziz Abdullah1,#; Alghamdi, Abdullah Fuad1,#; Alghamdi, Tariq Khalid1,#; Hasosah, Naif Mohammed1,#; Aga, Syed Sameer1,; Khan, Muhammad Anwar2

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Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care 10(9):p 3436-3443, September 2021. | DOI: 10.4103/jfmpc.jfmpc_2227_20
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Medical students even though being aware of the importance of well-balanced nutrition do tend to have laxity in practicing it themselves leading to poor nutrition. The aim of this study was to compare the awareness and knowledge of dietary habits among medical and non-medical students.


This cross-sectional study was carried out in two universities in the Jeddah province, King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences (KSAU-HS) and King Abdulaziz University (KAU), Jeddah over 6 months. A self-administered online questionnaire was employed to assess the knowledge and attitude of the dietary habits among the students.


The number of students who responded positively to the survey was 386, the mean age was 21.5 ± 2.10. 310 (80.3%) of which were males while 76 (19.7%) were females by a ratio of 4.07:1. Most of the participants were single (95.9%); 238 (87.6%) participants lived with their family and 272 (70.5%) participants were in the college of medicine. Among the medical students, 41.9% did exercise “sometimes,” 57.4% identified breakfast as an important meal of the day, and 14.7% were smokers.


In our study, we found that the medical students were having a higher level of awareness about the dietary and lifestyle habits but it was not reflected in their practice which needed to be taken care of.


In the current advanced times, the rates of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases have significantly increased, especially among developing countries.[1] With other risk factors associated with such chronic diseases, bad diet and health habits are some of the main causes. Diet is one of the most important factors which serves as a pivotal indicator of the population’s health.[2] According to the Saudi Ministry of Health, the percentage of obese individuals is 28.7% and it is one of the highest worldwide.[3]

In this context, a consensus is that medical students ought to have better knowledge and awareness about healthy dietary habits and lifestyle, but there is little evidence to support this notion. Usually, the translation of knowledge to effective and healthy practice is highly daunting especially in medical students who are known to live a stressful life quite contrary to maintaining good health.[45]

A recent cross-sectional study about the lifestyle and eating preferences of medical students at the University of Dammam was carried out, which reported that despite being medical school students, the percentage of students consuming a large amount of fast food and soft drinks was high. On the other hand, the percentage of medical students who exercise regularly was reported to be low.[6] The healthy eating habits of medical students are always a major concern because they usually possess more knowledge about the junk diet and its negative effects on health. In another cross-sectional study, among 200 participants, it was reported that most of the medical students were aware of the importance of healthy dietary habits, but they were not practicing it sufficiently in their routine because of the lack of time in their daily routine.[7] Another study from Pakistan reported that there was no significant difference between medical and non-medical students in the diet and lifestyle habits. They reported that less than half (48.8%) of the students had three meals a day while only 35.6% had two meals, and breakfast was the most commonly missed meal.[8]

The rate of obesity and college students’ eating habits in Saudi Arabia was examined using a cross-sectional study which reported that 21.8% of the students were overweight and 15.7% obese.[9] Many studies have primarily focused on studying the eating habits among medical students only. However, relatively few studies have focused on studying the eating habits among both medical and non-medical students. Additionally, the rate of different chronic diseases has increased especially among the young population. One of the main causes of this significant increase in some diseases such as diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases, is lifestyle especially eating habits.

Therefore, our main aim of the study was to evaluate whether the knowledge, awareness and attitude of medical of medical students influence their eating habits in comparison to non-medical students and try to identify the factors that lead to bad eating habits among the students.


Study design, area, and settings

This study was performed over 6 months (December 2019–May 2020) at two different universities—King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences (KSAU-HS) and King Abdulaziz University (KAU) in Jeddah, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The medical students were assigned from both universities whereas non-medical students were assigned from only KAU. This study was conducted in a cross-sectional method. This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of King Abdullah International Medical Research Centre (KAIMRC), a research wing of KSAU-HS, Jeddah (reference No: SP19/417/J; Dated: 01/10/2019).

Identification of study participants


  • Healthy students with no history of chronic and of age not less than 18 years.
  • Students willing to participate.


  • Students who had health-related problems, e.g. diabetes, hypertension, Crohn’s disease.
  • Premedical students or first-year non-medical students.

Sample size

The sample size was calculated by using the Raosoft software by the website The total number of medical and non-medical students in KSAU-HS and KAU in Jeddah whose ages were around 20–23 was roughly estimated to be around 13,800. The required sample size was estimated at 95% CI with an estimated 32.1 prevalence of unhealthy dietary habits leading to overweight students and a margin of error of 5%. The required minimum sample size was determined to be 327.

Data collection process

Medical and non-medical students of KSAU-HS and KAU were given a self-administered, predesigned questionnaire. The questionnaire consisted of three sections. In the first section, demographic information was included to assess the socioeconomic status of the participants. The second section contained questions about diet, exercise, smoking, and sleeping habits. The last section focused on the associated factors that affect dietary habits. The questionnaire was distributed online using Google Forms (questionnaire available on request). None of the identifications were taken from the participants.

Data analysis

The MS Excel program was used to store the survey data, and then, the data were analyzed by the SPSS software. Descriptive statistics (e.g. mean and standard deviation) were used to describe continuous variables while categorical variables were presented in frequencies and percentages. The results of this study were expressed in frequencies and percentages for qualitative variables. For comparing between qualitative and quantitative, Chi-squares and t tests were used. P value ≤ 0.05 was kept as statistically significant.



The number of students who responded to the survey positively was 386, the mean age was 21.5 ± 2.10; 310 (80.3%) were males, while 76 (19.7%) were females in a ratio of 0.24:1. Most of the participants were single (95.9%); a few were divorced (1%); 238 (87.6%) participants lived with their family; 272 (70.5%) participants were in the college of medicine, while the others were in different non-medical colleges. Furthermore, 154 (39.9%) participants in the college of medicine were from the fourth year. The mean of Body mass index (BMI) that the participants showed is 26.0 ± 5.82 [Table 1].

Table 1:

Demographic characteristic of the participants


The dietary habits among the students were assessed by questions regarding dietary component, whether it was healthy or not. In a question about the importance of having breakfast as a component of their diet, 57.4% of the medical students answered with a Yes. On the other hand, 65% of the non-medical students answered No, which shows a significant difference between the two groups (P < 0.001). When asked about vegetable consumption in a week, 34.6% of the medical students said Always in comparison with 25% non-medical students. A question about including meat in the diet (53.7% medical students) and (50% non-medical students) answered with Always, however, 2.2% of the medical students said Never and 10.5% of the non-medical students said Never, which shows a significant difference (P < 0.038). On asking about fast food consumption in a week, 53.7% of the medical students said Sometimes in contrast to 42.5% of the non-medical students with the same answer. When asked about the frequency of having soft drinks in a week, 18.4% of the medical students said Always as opposed to 35% of the non-medical students, which shows a significant difference (P < 0.011) [Table 2]. These are the best diet pills.

Table 2:

Comparisons of answers between students of medical and other colleges for diet related questions


Regarding exercise, the medical and non-medical students found some time to exercise as 41.9% of the medical students and 47.5% of the non-medical students answered with “Sometimes” to the question “Do you exercise?” When asked about the sports activities that the students often participate in, aerobics was the most chosen by both the medical students (43.7%) and non-medical students (56.3%), followed by ball sports. Also, 39% of the medical students and 55% of the non-medical students answered Sometimes to whether they find time for exercising. The final question regarding exercising in the questionnaire was about the total time spent daily on walking, and 10–20 min was the most chosen answer—39% by the medical students and 47% by the non-medical students [Table 3]. Check these sex pills.

Table 3:

Comparisons of answers between students of medical and other colleges for exercise related questions

Sleeping habits

As for the sleeping habits of the students, they were asked a number of questions. Among them was at what time they went to bed. It was found that the majority of the students (42%) went to bed between 11 pm and 12 am, 45.6% being medical students compared to 30% non-medical students, thus, showing a significant difference between the two groups (P < 0.011). When asked whether they go to bed on time every day, 54.5% of the students answered “Sometimes” with the medical students being 57.4% compared to 45% non-medical students. resulting in a large difference between the two groups of students (P < 0.014). And in a question on how many hours do they sleep daily, 56.3% of the students answered that they slept 4–6 h daily, with the medical students equaling 57.4% compared to 52.4% in non-medical students [Table 4].

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