# Organic food and university students: a pilot study

Kelsey Hamilton (School of Food and Nutritional Sciences, Brescia University College, London, Canada)
Sharareh Hekmat (Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, Brescia University College, London, Canada)

ISSN: 0034-6659

Publication date: 12 March 2018

## Abstract

### Purpose

The purpose of this study is to provide information relating to organic food consumption patterns specific to the Canadian population and youth demographic. The primary objective of this pilot study is to investigate the knowledge, consumption patterns and willingness to pay for organic food among the first-year University students enrolled in courses at Brescia University College.

### Design/methodology/approach

A questionnaire has been developed by the researchers and distributed to several first-year classes at Brescia University College. The results have been analyzed using Wilcoxon scores (rank sums), Wilcoxon two-sample test, Spearman correlation coefficients and univariate and multivariate regression analyses. A theme analysis has been generated from open-ended questions.

### Findings

No significant differences exist between nutrition and non-nutrition students. Attitudes toward organic food and knowledge score significantly impact the consumption patterns and willingness to pay for organic food (p = < 0.0001). Most students indicated that they were willing to pay a premium for organic food and had positive associations with it.

### Originality/value

This is the first study relating to this topic and the Canadian population. Results from this study provide baseline data that may be used to conduct future research.

## Keywords

#### Citation

Hamilton, K. and Hekmat, S. (2018), "Organic food and university students: a pilot study", Nutrition & Food Science, Vol. 48 No. 2, pp. 218-227. https://doi.org/10.1108/NFS-06-2017-0127

### Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

## Limitations

There were some limitations to this study. These include the use of a questionnaire that has not been validated and potential self-selection bias.

The questionnaire used for this study was created by the researchers. Existing questionnaires from similar research were used as models to guide the formulation of questionnaire content. It should be noted that this is a new and emerging area of research. Consequently, there are no existing, validated questionnaires that measure the dependent variables examined in this study within the university student population. Therefore, the results from this research study are not generalizable beyond the study population at the University of Western Ontario. However, the questionnaire underwent several rounds of pre-pilot testing to increase its validity. Furthermore, because of the novel nature of this research, the use of a questionnaire that has not been validated is acceptable, as it may serve as a template to produce a validated questionnaire for future research.

Another potential limitation for this study is the possibility of self-selection bias by participants. Students who are already interested in the topic of organic food may have been more likely to consent to participate in a research study regarding organic food. Therefore, the results of this study may be skewed in a favorable manner. However, the response rate of this survey was high: out of 550 potential participants, 426 (165 nutrition students and 261 students from other faculties), consented to participate, which is a 77.5 per cent response rate. Given this relatively high response rate, it is likely that a greater variety of students, including those who do not have a particular interest in organic food, were captured in this study.

## Strengths

One of the key strengths of this study is that the participants were representative of the general university student population. In addition to nutrition students, the study group was comprised of non-nutrition students encompassing a wide range of university disciplines and therefore presented no academic bias toward organic food. Therefore, it provided a comparison of the dependent variables measured to the nutrition student group, who, by virtue of being enrolled in a nutrition program, are assumed to have a greater understanding of the characteristics of organic food.

In addition, the response rate of this survey was high. Students in several first-year classes at Brescia University College were asked to participate in the survey. Of the 550 potential participants, 426 completed the survey, which is a 77.5 per cent response rate.

## Conclusions

The results of this research indicate that both nutrition and non-nutrition students view organic food as “healthy” and that this is their primary motivation for consuming it. Both groups of students expressed similar barriers that prohibited them from consuming organic food. The lack of significant differences exhibited between the two groups may be attributed to a lack of formal education on organic food characteristics. With an increasing amount of formal education on the topic of nutrition, there may be a more marked difference observed between nutrition and non-nutrition students. The results of this research suggest that nutrition students are more likely to purchase organic food, but not significantly so. Of all the variables measured, knowledge score as well as attitudes toward organic food independently influence consumption patterns among both groups of students. This research provides baseline data with which to structure future studies. Because most of the participants in both groups of students were at the beginning of their post-secondary academic careers, neither had significant formal education on the topic of organic food. Therefore, any data that is collected on university students in future research studies may be compared to this to gauge the influence of formal education on the dependent variables. Existing literature suggests that the level of formal education is a predictor of knowledge, consumption patterns and willingness to pay for organic food. As a result, it is recommended that this study should be continued and the questionnaire be redistributed to the same students in their third and fourth years of university. It is likely that the influence of formal education will be illustrated this way.

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## Corresponding author

Sharareh Hekmat can be contacted at: hekmat@uwo.ca