A Civic Project series: Aramark chronicles
By Hillary Clark
INDIANA — On a rainy morning in March, Mark Edgar, 52, of Indiana, sat at a small table in Giant Eagle Express and recalled a career in institutional food service. He worked for various companies for 36 years, 15 of them at university dining facilities. Until November, he was food services director at Indiana University of Pennsylvania for Aramark, the university’s long-time contractor.
Edgar grinned at the thought of “the freshman 15,” the weight gained by students during their first year of college. Nutrition provided at on-campus dining facilities is not the problem, he said; it’s selection. Students gain weight because they have too many food options.
All-you-can-eat dining halls, like those at IUP, are reminiscent of a scene from the 1978 movie “Animal House,” Edgar said. John Belushi’s character overloads his lunch tray to overflowing.
Real students do the same, Edgar said. They don’t read nutritional information. Under stress, they overeat.
“I think the nutritional information is available, but people don’t use it,” Edgar said. “Students have a lack of awareness in what they are eating.”
A May 4-9 survey of IUP student attitudes about campus dining supported Edgar’s assertion. More than 80 percent said they were unaware of or did not use serving-size measures provided by Aramark. Moreover, two-thirds said they had gained weight since arriving on campus. And a majority said they wanted healthier eating options. (See sidebar on the Qualtrics survey, below.)
The consequences of inattentive eating can be significant, said Michelle R. Coleman, an Aramark dietician and nutritionist for the past five years on IUP’s campus, in a March 28 email interview. Students’ eating habits during their academic careers are affected by their health, self-esteem and stress levels, she said.
The consequences extend well beyond campus. The U.S. Surgeon General has warned the country about an obesity crisis since at least 2003. A decade later, IUP students say campus dining facilities are not making the problem any better.
Brandon C. Woods, 18, a freshman IUP accounting major, said he has gained more than 10 pounds since August 2012 without changing his eating habits. Woods blamed the school’s dining-hall offerings — pizza, French fries, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fried chicken — for his weight gain.
“IUP admissions applications should come with a warning label,” said Woods during a March 1 interview at Stapleton Library. “ ’This school will make you fat.’ ”
Aramark says it offers healthier food options like salad bars or wraps, according to the IUP dining facilities website.
However, these meals include toppings like whole fat dressings, croutons and bread products. These items boost the caloric content of a meal by up to 300 calories, according to food package labels required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports the average moderately active 20-year-old male needs about 2,800 calories a day; females, 2,200.]
For example, Kraft full-fat ranch salad dressing contains 110 calories per serving, 100 of which are from fat, according to the Kraft company website. Kraft nutrition labels said 30 grams, or 2.1 tablespoons, is the serving size for this dressing.
But Woods said he sees students use more than the recommended serving size when applying dressing to their salads.
On Aug. 23 Aramark released CampusDish, a mobile application. Aramark said the app aims to provide students with nutritional meals and to promote healthy eating habits.
Coleman, the Aramark dietician, said the company is committed to providing students with healthy meals. She said the dining programs make nutrition messages simple so students can make informed food choices through the CampusDish program and other media, such as the company’s website.
“Dining hall menus are designed to provide a diverse assortment of food options that easily allow students to select a healthy and well-balanced diet,” she said in the March 28 email interview.
Coleman said weight gain in college has many causes, including stress, eating patterns, activity levels and alcohol. She said overeating may also be a contributing factor.
A healthy diet but can be altered by the amount consumed, she said. And when students are stressed, they turn for comfort to foods high in fat and sugars.
Aramark’s resident district manager at IUP, Steve Hoyng, said in a March 28 phone interview that he could not answer questions about the company for publication.
All of the faculty listed as members of the IUP Department of Food and Nutrition were contacted in late March for this story. Three responded. They said they were unqualified to talk about Aramark nutrition because they are not registered dietitians.
BUT SOME students report weight gains and say they are concerned about nutrition.
“I gained a lot of weight from eating at the places on campus during my freshman and sophomore years,” said Brittany K. Forringer, 21, a senior IUP fashion merchandising student, during a March 8 interview in Ackerman Hall.
Forringer works part-time as nutrition and fitness trainer for Beachbody, a home-fitness and weight-loss marketer. She said IUP and Aramark do not offer enough healthy food options.
“The options that they do have are loaded with unhealthy calories from fat and are also loaded with sodium and sugars,” said Forringer. “There is never an option for plain cooked chicken or vegetables that are not loaded with cheese or butter.”
Even if students are careful about the foods they eat in campus dining halls, few healthy carbohydrates, like whole grains and fibers, are served, said Forringer. And meal information Aramark provides gives students an unrealistically optimistic picture of the amount of food they are actually eating, she added.
“Even if Armark lists the calorie content in their foods, you’re not sure you’re getting that exact suggested serving size,” said Forringer. “Plus, you don’t know if it was prepared the exact same way.”
For example, Aramark provides exact serving-size measurements for foods that on average are below 200 calories, such as a half cup of steamed green peas, according to the CampusDish app. The app, however, shows that Aramark does not provide quantitative measures of serving sizes for meals over 400 calories, such as pasta dishes, according to menu items on the CampusDish mobile app.
During a random selection of foods offered to IUP students by Aramark on March 14, for example, Aramark said the chicken noodle soup contained 137.14 calories per eight-fluid-ounce serving. However, Aramark said the penne pasta with artichokes and tomatoes offered on the same date contained 437.01 calories per serving – but no quantitative measure of serving size was provided.
Some students said the CampusDish app provides inaccurate information.
“I downloaded it and I was not very pleased,” said Chelsie L. Riggle,18, a freshman IUP undeclared major in a May 9 email interview. “Half the time there was no menu and there was not even close to all of the foods being served on the menu.”
BUT IUP’s chief of campus chow said students are what they eat and they can manage for themselves.
“I think Aramark provides students with the opportunity to receive a balanced diet,” said Michael W. Lemasters, IUP executive director of housing, residential living and dining, and associate dean of campus living and learning past seven years, in an April 1 phone interview. “I would like to lose 20 pounds. But if I really want to lose it, I have to make changes in what I eat.”
Hillary Clark, a senior majoring in journalism and fashion merchandising, is from Lewistown.
Sidebar: How much weight do students gain?
About 70 percent of college students gain weight by the end of their sophomore year, according to research reported in the May/June 2005 issue of Journal of American College Health.
Michelle R. Coleman, a dietician and nutritionist for Aramark for the past five years on IUP’s campus, attributed the weight gains to students’ lack of awareness of serving sizes of common beverages. A 12-ounce soda or juice is a common adult beverage size.
“An average adult beverage or soda is 150 calories,” said Coleman. “If you consume 100 extra calories a day above your estimated needs, that results in a 10-pound weight gain in one year.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports the average moderately active 20-year-old male needs about 2,800 calories a day; females, 2,200.
A 1990 study conducted by Cornell University in found freshman college students gain 0.3 pound per week on average, according to David A. Levitsky, professor of nutritional sciences and of psychology. Levitsky said this average weight gain is about 11 times more than that of 17-and 18-year old high school seniors and almost 20 times more than adults in the United States.
In a March 18 phone interview, Levitsky said dining facilities designed to provide all-you-can-eat meals account for 20 percent of the weight gained by freshmen in his study.
“The food industry at schools is a reflection on what’s happening in the world,” said Levitsky. “We are all getting fat.”
— Hillary Clark
Sidebar: The Qualtrics survey
Below is the text of the 11-question survey of Indiana University of Pennsylvania students about campus dining. The anonymous May 4-9 survey was sponsored by the IUP journalism department’s News Reporting class.
The Qualtrics system administered by the IUP Applied Research Lab reported 90 responses from 1,500 students who received the survey, a response rate of 6 percent. Of those who responded, 79 surveys were completed. The margin of error in the survey results is reported to be plus or minus 1 percentage point.
The principal findings of the survey were:
- 65 percent of respondents said they have gained weight since arriving on campus
- 58 percent said they wanted healthier eating options
- 82 percent said they were unaware of or did not use serving-size measures provided by Aramark.
The questionnaire follows:
Hillary Clark and Scooter Renkin, journalism students at IUP, are investigating the nutritional value of foods provided by Aramark in campus dining halls. This investigation is for a Civic Project for the News Reporting Class taught by IUP journalism professor David Loomis, Ph.D.
This anonymous survey is being conducted for the project. The resulting data may be analyzed and published in the award-winning online newspaper The HawkEye, published by the IUP Journalism Department. Your personal information and identity will be kept confidential. However, if you want to provide your contact information for a follow-up call for the project, please feel free to do so in the space provided above the survey.
We appreciate your cooperation. If you have any questions concerning the survey, please direct all questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you have a meal plan?
How often do you eat at campus dining facilities, such as Foster Dining Hall, Folger Dining Hall or the Hadley Union Building.
A.) 1 day per week
B.) 2 days per week
C.) 3 days per week
D.) 4 days per week
E.) 5 days per week
F.) 6 days per week
G.) 7 days per week
How would you rate the food quality at IUP dining facilities compared to other eateries?
D.) Below Average
How many meals per day do you eat at IUP dining facilities?
Since arriving at IUP, have you gained weight?
What would you change about the food offered at dining facilities on campus?
A.) Healthier eating options
B.) More variety
In your opinion, which on-campus dining facility has the most-healthy food options?
A.) Foster Dining Hall
B.) Folger Dining Hall
In your opinion, which on-campus dining facility has the least-healthy food options?
A.) Foster Dining Hall
B.) Folger Dining Hall
Which of these foods do you think contains the most calories?
A.) One slice of cheese pizza
B.) A single cheeseburger
C.) A two-egg ham- and-cheese omelet
D.) A four-ounce fried fish fillet
Do you count the caloric content of your meals at IUP dining facilities?
Do you portion your meals at IUP Dining Facilities by the recommended serving size measurements provided by Aramark on their dining facility signage and CampusDish app?
Thank you for your participation in this survey. Your cooperation will aid greatly in our research for this project.
Sidebar: For more information
For more information about this story, contact the following sources:
Michael W. Lemasters
Housing, Residential Living and Dining
Associate Dean Campus Living and Learning
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Ruddock Hall, Suite G-37
1099 Maple St.
Indiana, Pa 15705
Aramark World Headquarters
1101 Market Street
Philadelphia, Pa. 19107
Aramark at Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Residential district manager
1110 Grant St.
Indiana, Pa. 15705