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Weight watching on a college campus The healthcare overhaul taking place in the United States is calling attention to measures that prevent obesity and the chronic issues associated with obesity. Ninety percent of today‟s diabetes cases are type two or adult onset diabetes, and seventy percent of diabetes cases are related to obesity, according to Ron Shewcraft, chair of the Physical Education Department at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA). “Obesity and chronic issues are rising [in the U.S.], and they‟re not going away,” said Shewcraft. “We have more and more kids developing these chronic issues at younger ages,” he said. Though most college students don‟t suffer from chronic issues, the lifestyle choices they make now can have a direct impact on their health in later years. The first year of college has long been associated with the rumored “freshman fifteen,” which refers to the weight that many students gain soon after they begin college. However, recent research indicates that weight gain isn‟t restricted to a student‟s first year. An Indiana State University study found that increased stress and workload in the junior and senior years contribute to weight gain in students‟ later years. The “senior surge” named in the study indicates that weight gain isn‟t limited to a students‟ first year—which could put them on a path towards obesity. MCLA offers a Lifetime Wellness course that promotes healthy lifestyles and discusses the behaviors that lead to weight gain in college students. The course, taught by Professor Shewcraft, “helps students develop a set of health behaviors that constitute… a high energy lifestyle,” according to the MCLA catalog.
McCluskey 2 Students in the course complete a number of diet and physical fitness assessments. Shewcraft said, “I have students say [on the diet assessments], „I eat differently since I left home.‟ And [they] drink more because they have the freedom to make their own choices.” Courtney Wills, a junior at MCLA, said her eating habits have changed since she moved on campus. She commuted to another college in her freshman year, during which time her parents cooked her dinners and did the grocery shopping. Wills said her parents impacted what she ate while she lived at home. “Now I eat a lot of junk food,” Wills said. “The availability of just being able to go to the [campus convenience store] really messes with me.” Senior Kimberly Capriola said her eating habits changed after she transferred away from home, which resulted in weight gain that she called “the transfer ten.” “I ate a lot of Stouffer‟s Mac and Cheese. That was an easy, quick thing to slip in the microwave, go to my computer, and work on homework,” Capriola said. Senior Marlene Anago also said her eating habits are different on campus. She doesn‟t eat many fruits or vegetables in the campus cafeteria, since she feels her options are limited to the salad bar. Anago consumes a lot of soda on campus but doesn‟t drink any while at home. Anago said, “What‟s offered here is tempting, and I can‟t resist the temptation—it‟s like an addiction.” The women cited a lack of healthy options on campus as a factor in their poor eating habits. Anago would like a source of healthy food aside from the salad bar. Wills said, “The salad bar is disgusting, and the food they have that tastes good is incredibly unhealthy.”
McCluskey 3 Capriola felt that the meal plan requirement could be a factor in weight gain. “People feel forced to eat this food even if it‟s not what they would normally choose… My friend and former housemate is a vegan and they had some options in the cafeteria, but [at] the grocery store she could giver herself so many more options,” Capriola said. But there have been significant changes in nutritional awareness on campus, according to Shewcraft. He said the food is reasonably healthy. “[Aramark] offers nutrition facts and different options with protein and healthy fats— they know what to do,” he said. He added that students complain about a lack of options to excuse their food choices, and that the number of options has increased in recent years. The freedom students experience in college can also have an impact on their physical activity. Shewcraft‟s students often say that they used to be more fit because of the clubs and sports they were involved with in high school. Their physical activities and food intake were monitored in those structured environments. “When you‟re away from all of that it catches up with you pretty quickly,” Shewcraft said. Capriola played softball and soccer and was on the track team in high school. She credited the sports with keeping her in shape. “Then I transferred… and tried to focus a lot of my time on my studies and the social aspect of college. I wasn‟t playing sports because I was working on academics,” she said. “I gradually gained the „transfer ten,‟ which I coined because I was making fun of it,” Capriola said. “But then it became the transfer twenty and it wasn‟t funny anymore.”
McCluskey 4 Anago was part of multiple swim teams while in high school, and credits the structure the teams provided with the consistent exercising she used to do. She stopped swimming once she started college. “Here, I don‟t have the motivation… I don‟t mind swimming on my own but it‟s not the same as swimming with a team, so I don‟t do it,” she said. Wills‟ involvement with her high school track team helped get her off the couch, and she has continued exercising in college. But despite her activities, Wills has gained weight since moving on campus. “I have gotten fat,” she said. “I think my eating habits are the cause of that.” Wills took a Fitness and Health course, similar to Lifetime Wellness, at UMass Boston. “I didn‟t get anything out of it,” she said. “It was pretty boring and honestly not something I care about at this point in my life.” One Lifetime Wellness assessment involves either walking a mile or running a mile and a half as a means of testing students‟ endurance. In recent years more students have opted to do only the walk.
-> Eat fresh fruits and vegetables. They’re full of nutrients, while student staples like Ramen and mac & cheese are not. -> Eat a variety of foods. You can eat fried foods and desserts, as long as you do so in moderation. -> Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night. -> Do moderate exercise for 30 minutes, three to five times per week. If you can’t fit a full 30 minutes into your schedule, break it up into ten-minute chunks. -> Pay attention to the way your clothes fit. If you notice your clothes feeling snug, decrease your caloric intake and increase the time and intensity of your workouts.
Tips for Staying Fit
McCluskey 5 “That tells me that people are less confident in their ability to run the mile and a half and less competent to do that mile and a half,” Shewcraft said. “From a cardio standpoint, more people are lacking than average or sufficient,” he added. Shewcraft hasn‟t examined the trend of the “senior surge,” but said that new and graduating students each experience stressors associated with change. Freshmen students are away from their parents and on their own for the first time, while seniors worry about graduate school and jobs. “Stress is one trigger that changes behavior,” Shewcraft said. “Some people deal with it by eating, others by drinking, smoking, or drugging.” Wills believes that stress‟s contribution to her weight gain is reflected in her sleeping habits. She slept an average of seven hours per night in her first two years of college. The workload of her junior year is so heavy that Wills sleeps an average of just four hours per night—three hours less than the amount Shewcraft recommends. Stress can also contribute to weight loss. Anago has lost weight in her last two years of college, which she believes to be a result of stress. “Stress gets to me and I don‟t want to eat, I forget to eat, and I lose weight without meaning to,” she said. Shewcraft said that Anago‟s experience with stress and weight loss is common. “Someone experiencing high levels of stress, real or perceived, [can] lose [their] appetite and thus not eat enough,” he said. Like weight gain, stress-related weight loss can have consequences. According to Shewcraft, energy levels are lowered when a person doesn‟t consume enough fuel in the form of carbohydrates, fats, and protein. “When the body is dealing with stress it really needs [increased] dietary intake in order to maintain a healthy immune system,” Shewcraft said. “The health
McCluskey 6 benefit of weight loss that is stress-induced will be outweighed by the detrimental effects of the stress itself.” The impacts of the freedom of choice in college and stress affect each person differently. But a healthy lifestyle impacts a person‟s quality of life as they get older, and Shewcraft recommends a healthy diet and exercise for all individuals. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise three to five times per week to stay healthy; a brisk 30-minute walk is sufficient exercise, according to Shewcraft. However, those who are looking to lose weight need to work a little harder and a little longer to see an impact. “In the case of the freshman fifteen, it takes about eight months to gain that weight. Losing it won‟t happen overnight,” Shewcraft said. Capriola resumed an exercise routine this semester, which included a treadmill, an elliptical, and weight training four times per week. She described the change in her weight as gradual but rewarding. “[Exercising] gives me endorphins and makes me a happier person,” she said. “I‟m feeling accomplished—I was able to do it. I was able to get back in shape.”
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