College students are notorious for unhealthy dietary habits, ranging from colloquialisms, like the “Freshman 15” to the reputation of frequent drinking at parties. Though the discourse of obesity in children is frequently in the limelight, with initiatives including Michelle Obama’s efforts in school lunch reform, the poor health choices of college students seem to be widely accepted as a naturally occurring phenomenon within the circumstances of university life.
Research published by the American College Health Association revealed through a sample of freshmen at Washington University in St. Louis that the majority of students fell short of the daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables while their consumption of fried and fast foods was beyond the recommendations set by various institutes of health. Not only does this result in weight gain, but unhealthy weight gain can also be accompanied by a host of long-term consequences, like a higher risk for heart disease and diabetes.
With full schedules of class and extracurricular commitments, college students all over America often find themselves choosing between eating well and doing whatever is most convenient. Jennifer, a student attending Columbia University, shared that she often skips meals not to lose weight but because she has trouble finding the time to eat.
Similarly, Jonathan, studying at Andrews University, said,
“I’ve been eating an average of 2.5 meals a day, where somedays I’ll eat 3 meals and others I’ll just eat 2. It all depends on whether I wake up early enough to eat an early breakfast.”
Instead of skipping meals, Annie, a student at the University of California, Irvine, said that she eats snacks throughout the day, without being too mindful of what she’s eating.
While these tendencies represent a norm within university life, there has also been a surge in trendy health. Athleisure is at the forefront of fashion, green smoothies are everywhere, and even YouTube is saturated with cooking and exercise videos.
When asked, Jennifer, Jonathan, and Annie all acknowledged that they would like to improve their diet and that the current health culture creates a sense of awareness for them, and even their friends, to pursue healthier lifestyles. Yet, how come health, even when it is desired and thrives commercially, fails to be a priority in the life of students?
In the midst of a myriad of possible explanations, the lack of time seems to be a common, substantial barrier that college students face to maintaining a balanced and consistent diet.
“In general, I think that college students aren’t that healthy in terms of their eating habits since most students’ goals are to just eat something quick,” observed Annie.
Especially with the pressure to be constantly productive, the belief that school, work, and extracurriculars come before nourishment appears to be extremely prevalent. Connie, attending New York University, noted,
“There is a real mentality of ‘if you have time to be healthy, to eat well and sleep enough, then you’re not working hard enough. I think many college students and young working adults have come into this mindset that evaluates if you’re working hard enough based on how much you’re suffering.”
The inescapable culture of competing standards of achievement and health points to how nutrition is an obligation that lingers but holds significantly less weight than academic or professional responsibilities. Health is a much more invisible accomplishment but one that requires our attention for our long-term well-being.