Dietary supplement use among dietetics students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
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Introduction: A dietary supplement is a product, which aims to add nutritional value to the diet. The use of dietary supplements is favoured among many countries, with a steady increase in use. There are many groups that are known to make use of dietary supplements such as females, the elderly, health professionals, gym goers, pregnant women, children under the age of 18 years and university students. University students are a group that are known to make use of dietary supplements in order to improve their academic performance, increase energy and promote overall general health. It is assumed that students studying towards a nutrition-related degree such as dietetics would be more likely to use dietary supplements, due to their interest in and exposure to nutrition. However, there is a lack of published data investigating the prevalence of dietary supplement use, factors associated with use and reasons for use among South African university students, studying towards a nutrition-related degree. Therefore, this study aimed to assess the use of dietary supplements by dietetics students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). Aim: The aim of the study was to assess the use of dietary supplements by students registered for a Bachelor of Science or a Post Graduate Diploma in Dietetics, at UKZN. Objectives: a) To determine the prevalence of dietary supplement use among dietetics students at UKZN. b) To determine the factors associated with dietary supplement use among dietetics students at UKZN. c) To determine the reasons for use of dietary supplements among dietetics students at UKZN. Methods: A cross-sectional, descriptive study was conducted using students registered for a Bachelor of Science or a Post Graduate Diploma in Dietetics, at UKZN. A self-administered questionnaire consisting of both open and close-ended questions was developed to collect data. The sample comprised of 139 dietetics students. Results: The use of dietary supplements was reported by 23% of the dietetic students. The most commonly used supplement among the students was Centrum (multivitamin) (21.9%, n=7), followed by calcium supplements (15.6%, n=5). There was a significant relationship between use of dietary supplements and gender and race. White and Indian students used dietary supplements more than the other race groups (p<0.05). Females (p=0.018) and students who lived at home were more likely to consume dietary supplements (46.9%; n=15) (p=0.008). Fourth year students (34%) used dietary supplements the most. There was no relationship between dietary supplements and physical activity, eating habits or ability to meet dietary requirements. Common reasons for using dietary supplements were to strengthen the immune system, improve energy levels and enhance health. Expense (32.7%; n=35), adequate diet (22.4%; n=24), deem it unnecessary/waste of money (15.0%; n=16) and unsure about supplements (14.0%; n=15), were statistically significant reasons for not using a dietary supplement (p<0.05). A significant proportion of the sample (72.2%) indicated that their source of information on dietary supplements was the internet (p=0.011), followed by dietetics/nutrition lectures (41.7%). About 73.3% (n=22) of the students who used supplements indicated that they had experienced an overall improvement in physical health after use of dietary supplements (p=0.016). Other results achieved included: more energy (53%; n=16) and better memory/concentration (53.3%; n=16). Furthermore, half of the sample that used supplements (50%; n=15) reported an improved resistance to illness/ability to fight illnesses earlier. Just over half the sample (51.4%) indicated that they planned to use a dietary supplement in the future. Conclusion: There was a low prevalence of use of dietary supplements among dietetics students at UKZN. Factors such as race, gender, residence and year of study influenced the use of dietary supplements. Use of dietary supplements was more common among white and Indian students, females and those in the fourth year of study. Dietary supplements were used to strengthen the immune system, improve energy levels and enhance health. The high cost of supplements was the main deterrent to use of dietary supplements.