College students experience new pressures and choices as they transition to independent living and can easily develop unhealthy eating habits, resulting in obesity and obesity-related chronic diseases in later life. This study aimed to test the hypothesis that nutrition literacy (NL) mediated the relationship between multi-level factors influencing healthy eating behavior identified from the social-ecological model and healthy eating behavior of college students. A four-part questionnaire was completed by 412 participants recruited from six different four-year universities in Taiwan (effective response rate = 85.8%). Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, an independent samples t-test, hierarchical multiple regression, and mediation analysis. The results indicated that the students’ mean nutrition literacy score was 4.32 (SD = 0.78, range = 1–6). In the social-ecological framework, nutrition literacy significantly predicted healthy eating behavior (β =.28, p < 0.001; ΔF = 32.54, p < 0.001; ΔR2 = 0.05) with control variables of background, intrapersonal, inter-personal, environmental, and macrosystem factors. Nutrition literacy mediated the effects of seven factors on healthy eating behavior across four levels. These findings suggested that strengthening influential multi-level factors associated with healthy eating behavior not only enhanced NL, but also improved individuals’ healthy eating behavior.
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