Young adulthood is a developmental period that is high risk for weight gain. Most young adults (70%) transition directly from home to the college setting, where they establish their independent eating habits in an environment that presents frequent challenges to maintaining energy balance. College cafeterias have been identified as a key source contributing to an obesogenic environment on campus because they provide access to a variety of palatable foods in an all-you-can-eat setting. However, precise characterization of the prevalence of hyper-palatable foods (HPF) available in a cafeteria setting has not previously been conducted using standardized criteria. The purpose of the study was to identify the prevalence of HPF provided in a University’s main dormitory, all-you-can-eat style cafeteria using a new quantitative definition of HPF developed by Fazzino et al. (2019).
The HPF definition was applied to a University cafeteria dining menu to determine the prevalence of foods that met the HPF criteria. The dining menu covered 27 consecutive days and yielded a total of 657 non-duplicate food items for analysis.
HPF items comprised 55% (364/657) of items offered at the cafeteria. The majority of items met HPF criteria due to elevated fat and sodium (70%; 254/364). In addition, 26% (94/364) met criteria due to elevated carbohydrate and sodium, and 25% (91/364) met the criteria due to fat and simple sugar contents. Twenty-percent (75/364) of items had ingredients that were elevated in more than one domain (e.g., in both i. fat and sugar and ii. carbohydrate and sodium).
Applying a quantitative definition of HPF to a college all-you-can-eat style dormitory cafeteria revealed that HPF items constituted a substantial proportion of foods available, suggesting that a college cafeteria setting may present a significant barrier to maintaining energy balance in college.