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Food Education For Big Kids


One group ideal for these messages, however, is college students. Often living alone for the first time, these students are literally establishing the habits likely to guide them throughout their lives.

With back-to-school articles timely, the Associated Press recently came out with a piece stressing that universities are looking to help freshmen avoid gaining weight and falling into bad habits.

Although I believe that college students may gain weight freshman year, the reasons this is so are unclear, and explanations the article offers seem unlikely to me. The article starts with an example:

Sunny Dawson ran two miles every other day when she started her freshman year at the University of Southern California. But the lure of the cafeteria near her dorm became too much to resist.

“Everyone I know went crazy, ’Oh my God, pizza. Oh my God, ice cream’,’ she said. Dawson soon stopped running and “started piling up the food in the cafeteria.”

By Christmas break, the 5-foot-10 native of Haleiwa, Hawaii, had gained 10 pounds.

Hmmm, put a cafeteria nearby and college students stand helpless to resist? Does the presence of the cafeteria so overwhelm them that they feel compelled to abandon their two-mile running habit?

I doubt it.

The article mentions the fact that many school dining programs offer “all you can eat” dining as a big issue, although it seems unlikely to me that all these kids came from homes where their access to food was strictly limited and that, in the face of an all-you-can-eat cafeteria, they start binging. “Irregular schedules” are another problem, although student schedules strike me as just about as predictable and steady as anything they will ever do in life.

I give a fair number of speeches at colleges, and I always try to eat in or at least walk through the student dining halls. I find that most colleges offer a big array of healthy options including plenty of opportunities to be a vegetarian if that suits you.

I suspect issues with weight gain relate more often to increased consumption of alcohol as much as anything else. Also among the causes of weight gain is the fact that college students no longer have to attend mandatory PE class and, perhaps, no longer participate in a high school sport that was maintained in part to burnish one’s resume for college.

This article goes on to talk about other eating and self-image issues and all kinds of programs to teach people how to make good choices.

I suggest another alternative. We do too much preaching about health.

I would like to see the various food groups team together to do a pilot class on educating students on how to appreciate good food.

I’m thinking about a class on the model of the famous “wines” class at the Cornell Hotel School, which is both rigorous and enlightening, but often begins to build a lifelong appreciation of fine wine.

The problem with preaching health is, inevitably, the message that comes across is that “You really would enjoy that junk food, but don’t eat it because it will make you fat and give you diseases.” If we teach an appreciation for good food, the students won’t want the junk food because the quality is bad.

In other words, they will eat good food because there is something they will enjoy eating more. That strikes me as a direction far more likely to achieve long term success than urging a lifetime of denial or medicinal eating.

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