Determinants of Dietary Calcium Intake in a Young Adult Population
Calcium is important for the development and maintenance of healthy bones, particularly in young adulthood. Many young adults do not meet dietary recommendations for calcium. Determinants of dietary calcium intake have been examined mainly in older adults; the young adult population has not been extensively explored. Quantitative and qualitative studies were conducted in young adults (18-34 years) to address these gaps in the literature. Our quantitative study assessed young adults' dietary calcium and milk and alternatives intake and milk product health beliefs. Seventy-nine participants (~25 years; 40 M & 39 F) completed a 3-day food record and a milk product health belief questionnaire. One-third of the sample were not meeting dietary calcium recommendations, with 52% of participants below recommendations of milk and alternatives for their age group. Participants expressed uncertainty about whether organic versus traditional milk products are healthier, whether milk products are important for weight control, and concerns regarding adulteration of milk products. More females than males valued milk products’ contribution to bone health and were concerned with the humane treatment of dairy cows. Our qualitative study examined young adults' knowledge of calcium in relation to health, and suggestions to increase dietary calcium intake and ways to communicate calcium-related messaging to this population. Eight gender-specific focus groups (n=53; 3M & 5F) were conducted using a semi-structured interview guide grounded in Social Cognitive Theory. Participants perceived calcium to be important for children and older adults, but less so for their age group. The high cost of milk products, the inconvenience of purchasing milk products, and perceived negative practices of dairy farmers were barriers to increasing dietary calcium intake. Planning healthy meals and consuming calcium-rich foods habitually were recommended as strategies to increase dietary calcium intake. Participants suggested nutrition education in school curricula, and trusted advice from health professionals as means for communicating nutrition information. In conclusion, this dissertation identified that deterrents to adequate dietary calcium intake cited by participants were mainly based on negative perceptions relating to various aspects of milk products, and a lack of knowledge of the importance of dietary calcium intake for the young adults.