Looking for a Taste of Home: A Qualitative Study of the Health Implications of the Diets of Australian - Based Southeast Asian Students

  •  Jodie Leu    
  •  Cathy Banwell    


PURPOSE: To investigate potential dietary changes among Southeast Asian international students living in self-catered accommodation while studying abroad and to consider implications for their health.

DESIGN: Participants were interviewed about their food preferences and behaviours in their home countries and during their undergraduate studies at the Australian National University.

SETTING: A university in Australia

PARTICIPANTS: Study participants were full-time undergraduate students over 18 years of age from Southeast Asian countries studying at the Australian National University for at least one year, and living at self-catered accommodation.

METHODS: Thirty-one, in-depth, face-to-face qualitative interviews concerning usual diets were collected over a three month period in 2013. Interviews were coded and analysed with the aid of a computer program Atlas.ti.

RESULTS: The macro-nutrient content of Southeast Asian international students’ diets did not change a great deal when they moved to Australia. Most students replaced some preferred foods on occasions because they either could not afford them, they were not available or they lacked the time to prepare them. These dietary changes were not necessarily reflected in changes to students’ weights and most students considered that they were as healthy as when they lived at home.

CONCLUSION: As students’ adapt to a new food environment they reflexively manage potential health risks. Strong student networks and an accessible and healthy food environment would support students to make healthy dietary choices although additional information about healthy diets could facilitate this further.

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