Weight Loss in College

October 11, 2011

This is a guest post by Marina Salsbury.

It’s long been observed that first-year college students are prone to weight gain. While this was once considered only a cosmetic concern, it’s now recognized as a potentially serious health problem. Between exploring campus, registering for college classes online, and meeting so many new people so quickly, it’s easy for healthy eating to fall by the wayside when college begins. Poor habits and behaviors developed during college years put students at risk for a lifetime of debilitating health issues. It’s vital college students be informed and given tools to avoid or break these bad habits.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, obesity among college students is emerging as a significant health challenge. Data from 2005 indicate three out of ten college students are overweight or even obese. They go on to report that only one out of ten students engages in vigorous or even moderately intense exercise at least three days per week. Research done at the University of New Hampshire found that of more than 800 college students 60 percent of males had high blood pressure and 66 percent of females were low in iron, calcium, or folate. Additionally, 95 percent of males and 82 percent of females weren’t getting adequate fiber in their diets.

It isn’t fully understood why weight gain becomes such a common issue for college students. A few factors, however, are known to contribute. One such factor may simply be many college students are making independent food choices for the first time in their lives. Cafeteria food is often plentiful, as are snack items. Socializing is a large part of college life and often includes consumption foods with poor nutritional value but high caloric content (not to mention alcohol).

Stress may be another significant factor. It’s well known many people eat more as a way to handle stress. College students encounter many new stressors as they learn to adapt to course expectations, separation from family and friends, and new social arrangements. If not given the proper tools to handle their stress, students may fall back on comfort foods to ease anxiety.

As students struggle to adapt to heavier course loads and possibly part-time jobs, they may feel serious time constraints. Unfortunately, when rushed they may choose quick foods that are often high in calories and low in nutritional value. Compounding the problem, students may feel they simply can’t give high priority to the physical activity needed to keep themselves in good health.

Whatever the factors that lead to the development of poor nutritional and exercise habits, they are harmful. High blood pressure, high blood glucose, and high triglyceride levels can result from these poor habits. These are all known to be predictive factors for the development of heart disease, diabetes, and other life-threatening conditions.

Like anyone else, college students need balanced diets including a lot of fruits and vegetables. Not only are fruits and vegetables packed full of vitamins, they provide crucial fiber as well. Since fiber contributes to the feeling of being full, it can reduce hunger cravings. This is a much more sensible approach to healthy weight management than following any fad or extreme diets. Such diets are known to lead to fatigue, irritability, and rebound weight gain.

Most college campuses have a health clinic or a dietician available to students. These can be a great resource for students to get advice and support when trying to establish good patterns of eating and exercising that can be maintained for a lifetime.

Most campuses also provide many opportunities to exercise, including intramural sports, swimming, walking, running, and dance. College may be a great time to learn a new sport or try a new form of exercise!

Although the data are rather bleak regarding current weight trends among college students, this is a preventable situation. As college personnel become more aware of the seriousness of student weight gain, better support can be implemented to help students help themselves. Nutrition educational opportunities as well as exercising options can be the first step to better student body health. Ultimately, however, it is up to each individual student to take charge of his or her own health and take responsibility for better long-term fitness.

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