September 24, 2008

Students Gain Weight First Semester, Study Finds

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In 2004, Prof. David Levitsky, nutritional sciences, published a study that found freshmen at Cornell gained an average of 4.2 pounds in their first semester on campus. Four years later, as the Class of 2012 assimilates into the culture of Cornell, Levitsky’s findings are being questioned by some students and supported by others.
Levitsky recruited a sample of 60 freshmen and weighed them at the beginning and end of their first semester. The results represent a daily intake of 300-400 calories more than normal, healthy eating. Based on results from a questionnaire that each subject answered, Levitsky associates this weight gain with the “all-you-care-to-eat” dining system and the late-night snacks in which so many students partake.
After the findings of that study, Levitsky has begun to follow up on his investigation. He is currently involved in studies looking at the usefulness of nutrition facts, labels and the effectiveness of daily weight monitoring.
In the 2009 edition of The Princeton Review’s The Best 368 Colleges, Cornell was ranked eleventh in the “Best Campus Food” category. This is due to the wide variety of food, from Kosher to Mongolian, and the 31 eateries on campus.
Ryan Shedd ’12, a student employee at the Robert Purcell Marketplace Eatery, remarked that “[There is] just this mass quantity of food at your disposal.” Shedd serves students two, three and up to seven helpings of chicken nuggets and quesadillas at the “all-you-care-to-eat” location, one of ten on campus.
Freshmen overeating can be attributed to the limited amount of time students have to eat at Cornell, with classes, clubs and studying to worry about. For many, it’s much faster to get pizza or a calzone at Bear Necessities than to swipe in at North Star, in Appel Commons, and make a salad. And, during the day, it’s much quicker to pick up a FreshTake sandwich at the Libe Café than to wait in lines at Okenshield’s for a balanced meal. What students may not realize is that these quick meals can have an unhealthy amount of calories. A Turkey Club Wrap, packaged by FreshTake, contains 840.5 calories. With a healthy daily intake of 2,000-2,500 calories, that wrap coupled with a smoothie and a bag of chips can add up to more than half of a healthy daily allotment of calories. Furthermore, the late-night eating and drinking that so many students partake in on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights adds a lot of calories.[img_assist|nid=32046|title=So many choices|desc=Students peruse the food stations in Robert Purcell Dining Hall last night on North Campus. The “all-you-care-to-eat” dining halls carry a mixture of healthy and unhealthy food.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
All freshmen are on a meal plan and have Big Red Bucks for other food purchases. “It’s like free food,” Amber Garcia ’12 said. Since it doesn’t feel like students are really paying, they are just eating more and more.
Some students think that frequent gym visits and the uphill walk to class will balance overeating. However, Levitsky’s study showed no correlation between exercise and losing weight. Yes, going to the gym will keep students fit and toned, but it won’t lead to weight loss.
Some students on campus do think that they are losing weight, though. They attribute this weight loss to strict dieting and the lack of time to chow down at the dining halls due to rigorous coursework. But, this feeling is not shared by most freshmen on campus. Most agree with Alicia Weigel ’12, who said, “I feel like I gained 25 pounds already!”
Levitsky said that it is up to the Cornell community, students, faculty and administration to work to fight the problem of weight gain during freshman year.
“[Cornell’s faculty and administration] have to learn how to teach students to be responsible when eating,” he said.
Levitsky also discussed data that show eating habits developed in college can persist throughout adulthood, causing people to develop conditions including hypertension and diabetes.
Cornell does have a nutritionist and offers healthy alternatives to the usual dining fare. Students have started clubs, like the Cornell Running Club, to improve their physical fitness. And, every student is required to pass two Physical Education courses in their years at Cornell. However, Levitsky said that students’ consciousness of what they eat is the only way to prevent weight gain.
“We have to take cognitive control of our own eating,” he said.