It’s easy for college freshmen to develop unhealthy eating habits thanks to unlimited access to high-fat, high-calorie foods, but those double helpings and late-night pizza runs may cause more problems than a bigger jeans size.
In 2007, University of New Hampshire researchers found that weight issues, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a lack of exercise are affecting college students between the ages of 18 and 24 in more ways than one—students may be headed toward a future of chronic conditions.
Data collected from more than 800 undergraduates enrolled in a nutrition course found that more than two-thirds of women weren’t meeting nutritional needs for iron, calcium or folate. Sixty percent of men had high blood pressure and 8% of men had metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors that predict future development of heart disease and diabetes. One-third of the students involved in the study were overweight or obese, reports Forbes.
“All indicators are that this population will most likely [show signs of] more chronic disease at earlier ages.” says Joanne Burke, director of the University of New Hampshire dietetic internship program.
Today’s college students may not have the same history of eating meals with their busy families as previous generations. If they regularly ate fast food for dinner growing up, it’s unlikely that they will choose healthy options in the college cafeterias. Students can also establish bad dietary habits, like not eating enough fruit and vegetables, in the first year of college. The habits will most likely stay with them for a long time.
It’s also possible to develop healthy eating habits that can stick with you for a long time, even if you weren’t accustomed to them at home.
“When a child is in grade school or high school and a parent decides not to buy healthy foods, we can’t do a lot,” Burke tells Forbes. “But in college, we can reach them.”
Daphne Oz, the daughter of Oprah star and best-selling author Dr. Mehmet Oz, struggled with her weight during high school but managed to lose 10 pounds as a freshman at Princeton. She is the author of The Dorm Room Diet, described as a “10 step program for creating a healthy lifestyle plan that really works.”
Among Oz’s suggestions for eating healthy in college:
Today’s college students may have unhealthy eating habits, but they also have much higher expectations than previous generations when it comes to food. The days of drab, tasteless college cafeterias are nearing their end. Many big-name colleges and universities are overhauling their campus food services by purchasing local and organic ingredients; offering vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free fare; and even composting waste and saving energy.
Hearst Communications’ The Daily Green researched campus dining services and sustainability at schools to come up with 12 of the Most Healthy and Sustainable College Cafeterias. The top five colleges are profiled below.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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