Fox Hall is one of the largest dining halls on campus. (Courtesy of Richard Mandelkorn Photography)
Dining halls, late night fast food and easy access to vending machines make up much of the student culinary experience. There is not much guessing as to why the infamous “freshman 15” exists, and how many students struggle to find a balanced diet while in school. Besides the obvious health dangers of a poor diet, many people do not take into account the less prominent issues associated with bad eating habits.
According to a study conducted by New York University, a healthy diet can contribute to students’ overall energy levels, immune system and their ability to cope with stress. All these can contribute to their quality of education received and experienced while in school. The erratic eating behaviors most students fall into is the main culprit, with many not intending on eating so poorly.
There are external factors that come into play, such as cost and convenience. It is estimated that an average college student will eat out at fast food restaurants one to three times a week. This is in lieu of standard grocery shopping and cooking on their own time, something that could add up to hours of time in their week that most students simply feel like they do not have.
“The hardest thing about eating in college is planning full and healthy meals; it’s very difficult to find the time and money to prepare balanced meals as a busy student,” said Ben Marshall, a marketing student.
There are many guidelines and support for students who feel like they struggle with their eating habits while away from home. For example, right here on campus there are dietary labels and nutritional information for all food available at the dining halls. There are also healthy stations, such as salad bars and vegan options. For those students who feel as if they are unable to afford healthy food, there are opportunities like food pantries on campus to help support these students.
Despite university efforts to provide students with nutritious food, there is still one problem that most institutions cannot solve: lack of time. Among the many responsibilities students hold, work, school, and clubs, many students push eating to the back burner. This is different than just opting to eat fast food, there is a serious malnutrition crisis going on with all college students. Dr. Lisa Merrill, a nutrition professor at UMass Lowell, has described the trends she has seen with her students.
“Most don’t eat breakfast, or lunch, or sometimes even dinner, they simply don’t have the time,” she said.
Regarding students’ habits, she says that the extreme is “college in a nutshell.” This brings the very important question to the table, are students’ plates too full to put the time to eat on them?
Overall, poor diet habits do far more than the obvious fact of making students hungry or leaving them too full on junk and could lead to weight gain. A proper diet should not be optional to students and a skill only few are able to acquire. There are many ways to eat healthy, such as utilizing tools online and talking to experts at the university for guidance.
Students often feel daunted by the concept of analyzing and composing a decent plan; it seems like another task that they do not have the time to take on. It is important to promote student wellness more than anything else, and to not spread false nutritional information. Students should verify their facts before following certain diets by checking the source and author’s credibility. Their health depends on it.