The United States of America is fat. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 1/3 of American’s are obese. So why is this such a problem? As a whole, the nation is under-educated about nutrition, and colleges: our country’s standard of higher education, are some of the biggest culprits of perpetuating the obesity epidemic.
Colleges are encouraging unhealthy eating habits by offering limited healthy food options, falsely advertising healthy foods, and requiring students to purchase their meal plans. As a member of our young adult generation that is likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and even cancer from obesity, I feel very strongly about the importance of making healthy choices and breaking the cycle.
In the summer of 2013 I was diagnosed with a gluten allergy that I share with my mother and brother. This limits our diets from eating gluten containing foods, including wheat, rye, and barley. It sounds awful, no pizza, no doughnuts, no cake, oh my! But I worked very hard, and since my diagnosis I have become incredibly health conscience and in addition to eating entirely gluten free I also avoid dairy products, added sugars, and processed food in general. I feel better than I ever had, and I would recommend this lifestyle to anyone, but that is not the message I am trying to send. I am now away from home in my first year of college, living off of a university meal plan, and I have been very upset to realize that I am restricted to a few healthy eating options, some of which are advertised as healthy but in reality, are not, and I did not have a choice in purchasing my $1,460 meal plan.
When searching for healthy food options on a college campus, one’s choices are very limited. So far, I have found that my university’s main cafeteria, the student center’s salad bar, and the small convenience store have healthy options, sometimes providing fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats. The problem is that these locations have limited choices, limited hours, and often change what they are serving, limiting the healthy options even further. Even for students without food allergy restrictions, the dining choices are still poor.
When you explore the food options even further, you find that universities offer a plethora of “healthy” foods like sandwiches, salads, and smoothies. The common misconception is that the freshmen fifteen comes from binge drinking, junk food consumption, and a lack of exercise, but eating the foods that are advertised as healthy can often be the main problem. Buying a Cesar salad from McAlister’s Deli can be 840 calories containing 67 grams of fat, and 1,870 mg of sodium. And this is for a salad! So if students are grabbing a salad with a sweet tea for their healthy meal of the day, they are already way off track. Adding in the sugar-laden smoothies and fat filled sandwiches and of course you’re going to gain weight.
Our bodies are not designed to process the junk we feed them, and when young adults are sent to college and placed under immense stress, lack of sleep, and surrounded by pizza, burgers, and pasta, they are on the road to a health disaster. Universities are free to provide whatever foods they want, this is America and citizens can eat what they please, however, to provide unwholesome food and mandate that students purchase the meal plan to eat it is unacceptable. Meal plans advertise that they are the most economical choice for students, but that is seldom the case, leaving the students with unused swipes, flex points, or whatever other method the university uses to pay for food. These meal plans become a waste of money for students and benefit the meal plan providers.
So, college meal plans are quite literally encouraging and perpetuating the obesity epidemic. Schools claim to be looking out for the health of their students, but when they provide meager healthy choices that are overwhelmed by fast food restaurants, their health efforts go by the wayside. Meal plans are not monetarily beneficial or healthy for students. Many young adults do not even realize how poorly they’re eating or how these choices will continue to effect them throughout the rest of their lives, but as we learn to live on our own, we need to be learning how to live healthy lives as well. So while your college aged child, niece, or nephew, roommate, friend, or even yourself begins to blame the freshman fifteen on not going to the gym, it is a little more likely that the quick meals on campus are catching up to them.