July 3, 2012
Campus dining centers make the grade in boosting students' academics, social support
Students eating meals together may be a contributing factor to good grades and an active social life.
According to a Kansas State University researcher, eating with others in a university dining center is related to academic success and perceived social support.
Abigail Bauer, who recently earned her master's degree in public health from K-State, analyzed the effects that communal eating at a university dining center had on grades and perceived social support in first-year college students.
She discovered that students' grade-point averages escalated as they increased the number of times they ate in a campus dining center and with others. Students also reported having better social support.
"This preliminary finding supports the notion that eating with other people and in campus dining centers is helpful for freshman students," Bauer said. "Eating a meal is an important time for students to relax, talk to people and form relationships. It’s a time for nourishment for their bodies and for their well-being."
Bauer polled more than 300 freshman students who ate in Derby Dining Center, which serves Ford, Haymaker, Moore and West halls at K-State.
In online and in-person surveys, 62 percent of students said that eating in the dining center made them feel more socially connected, while 77 percent said they were rarely or never lonely when people sat near them in the dining center.
Students who ate at least 11 times a week in the dining center earned an average GPA of 3.4, according to Bauer's study, but those who ate fewer than seven times per week in the dining center earned an average GPA of 3.0.
"I can't really say why, because this was just a snapshot in time," she said, "but this study leaves a lot of room for further research."
The study supports the importance of family meals, Bauer said.
"A lot of literature and previous research has shown that family meals and meals with caregivers can be sources of social support," she said. "Most research focuses on the very young or very old, but in general social support is healthy for all people."
Some universities offer grab-and-go prepared meal options as a convenience for students, Bauer said, but those may not be ideal options.
"These findings show how important it can be for students to sit down and eat together," she said. "All students have to eat, and eating together is a great way for students to connect with one another."
Students in the study could enter a drawing to win gift certificates provided by housing and dining services after they completed surveys.
Sandra Procter, assistant professor of human nutrition, was Bauer's adviser.
Bauer was an assistant residence life coordinator at K-State and will be a residence hall director at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Mich., where she earned her bachelor's degree.