Recipe for Weight Gain at IUP: Dining, Drinking

Prescription for weight loss: exercising

By Sara B. Lamberson

INDIANA — A daily smorgasbord at the campus dining hall can be tempting. But for many college students it also can be fattening.

“All of the options the dining halls at IUP gave were hard to choose between,” said Chelsea L. Calahan, 21, a junior criminology major, in a March 31 e-mail interview. “So I would just eat all of it.

From the beginning of her freshman year until the middle of her sophomore year, Calahan gained 30 pounds. Constant visits to the on-campus, all-you-can-eat dining hall – plus some alcohol consumption – put on the pounds, she said.

Weight gain in college is common, according to several studies.

Seventy percent of college students gained weight from the beginning of their freshman year until the end of their sophomore year, a 2002 study by Washington University in St. Louis found. The average weight gain was about nine pounds. The study also reported that students ate too few fruits and vegetables and too many unhealthy foods.

A 2007 University of New Hampshire study found that of roughly 800 student participants, at least one-third were obese or overweight.

This problem is prevalent at IUP, too.

“The lack of physical activity and over-eating is the deadly combination that is creating this obesity epidemic,” said Tracy N. Gibbs, 23, the IUP Exercise Science Club president and senior exercise science major, in a March 26 e-mail interview.

College students’ busy schedules are a reason for decreased activity, according to Gibbs.

A small percentage of students go to the HUB Fitness Center on campus, according to a 2008 monthly attendance report. During 2008, of 14,300 students at IUP, an average of about 550 worked out at the gym daily, or 4.3 percent of the total student population.

Another reason for college weight gain, said Gibbs, is that students tend to make quick, cheap choices, usually fast food, pizza or other processed offerings on campus and off.

“These foods are high in sodium and fat, which lead to obesity, high blood pressure and clogged arteries,” Gibbs said.

In health classes, students report that they make unhealthy food choices because they are convenient, according to Dr. Kevin F. McKee, assistant professor and department of health and physical education’s health and wellness coordinator, in an April 13 e-mail interview.

“Many students who eat at the dining halls comment that they have fallen into patterns of eating the same ‘unhealthy’ foods much too regularly,” said McKee.

It is difficult to find healthy food choices on campus, Gibbs said.

“Vegetables, mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, pastas, sauces, etc., may seem healthy but are lathered with butter and salt,” she said.

Students can prevent against weight gain by following one rule.

“It is the same as it ever was and it is no secret,” said Gibbs. “Put out more than you take in.”

McKee agreed.

“Pay close attention to activity patterns, and adjust food consumption accordingly,” he said.

Gibbs suggested easy ways to burn extra calories: Take the stairs instead of the elevator, take the long way to class, recruit an exercise buddy, take advantage of free fitness classes on campus and participate in a club or intramural sport.

IUP requires that all students take a health and wellness course, which addresses healthy eating and physical activity and their relationships to weight management, according to McKee.

“The university feels these are important issues that each student should possess knowledge of,” he said.

These courses do not only promote physical wellness.

“The faculty within our department strive to instill within students reasons other than physical appearance as motivation to participate in movement, such as feeling better mentally and emotionally, as well as a higher quality of life,” said McKee.

Sara B. Lamberson, a senior majoring in journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Wallingford, Pa.

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