Is the Freshman Fifteen Mandatory?

Dr. R. McLeod – Special to the Aquinian

Everyone knows the saying – as a freshman, you will gain 15 pounds! But, does that have to be the case? Obesity is a major health issue in Canada. In 2004, the Canadian Community Health Survey: Nutrition (CCHS) reported that over 50% of Canadians were overweight. Furthermore, 23% of Canadians were considered to be obese (defined as a body mass index of 30 or more), a dramatic increase over the 13.8% rate that was reported in 1978/79. This trend has been observed worldwide and while the rates in Canada lag behind those in the USA, overweight individuals are at greater risk for developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and osteoarthritis.

Obesity is less common in young adults but some of the greatest increases in the rates of obesity have been observed in young children and teenagers. Childhood eating habits and life styles are often maintained throughout life. Dieting generally has short term benefits. So good eating habits, developed at a young age, are essential in order to maintain weight in a healthy range.

University life is often not conducive to healthy eating and exercise. On the other hand, simple lifestyle and eating modifications might make a difference. For instance, researchers in the CCHS study found that individuals who consumed 5 or more servings of fruit and vegetables each day were less likely to be obese. Similarly, those who were physically active were less likely to be obese.

What can you do? The Canada Food Guide recommends foods that are high in calories, fat, sugar or salt be limited. These include donuts and muffins, candies and chocolate, French fries, nachos and potato chips, alcohol and sports, energy and soft drinks. Hmm… seem like that eliminates most of the foods in your diet? There are alternatives which are healthier choices. For instance, choose low fat, high fiber muffins and bagels. Try unsalted plain popcorn instead of nachos and chips. Despite the advertising, sports and energy drinks offer little benefit and are high in sugar. Water is a better alternative. Add a lime or lemon wedge for taste! Eat low fat yogurt and fruit instead of desserts and ice cream.

Living on a budget and not having time to cook often leads to consumption of high fat, high caloric food. Cheap foods from fast food outlets lead the list of foods to avoid. Consider buying bulk foods such as cereals and keep them on hand to eat at breakfast and for snacks. Consider preparing food on the weekend and freezing it. Studies have shown that families who eat together have lower rates of obesity. If families eat home cooked food instead of purchased food, they have even lower rates of obesity. These same observations probably are true for university students.

Then there are all those things that your mother has been telling you: eat a good breakfast, don’t snack before bedtime, get some exercise and of course, don’t drink alcohol (yeah, right, Mum!).