The Impact of Unhealthy College Eating Habits: Linking Students’ Dietary Choices to Long-Term Health Risks

by Liam O'Connor
5 comments
Unhealthy college diets

Recent research has raised alarm about the potential consequences of unhealthy eating habits acquired during one’s college years. These patterns may contribute to serious health issues, such as obesity, respiratory illnesses, and depression. The study, which involved nearly 12,000 medical students from 31 Chinese universities, highlights the correlation between poor dietary habits and both chronic and infectious diseases. The findings strongly suggest universities should prioritize offering healthier and affordable food alternatives.

A researcher from UBC Okanagan cautions that unhealthy dietary patterns established during university years could lead to substantial health issues in later life. Dr. Joan Bottorff, a Professor at UBCO’s School of Nursing, collaborated with an international research team to study university students’ eating behaviors. Their study centered on investigating the link between dietary habits, obesity, and a range of health problems.

Dr. Bottorff emphasizes that many detrimental eating habits begin during university life and often persist for decades. She mentions, “Many students opt for high-calorie meals and sugar-laden foods and drinks. There is ample evidence suggesting such eating behaviors can lead to obesity. These aren’t the sole causes of obesity, but they are significant and can’t be dismissed.”

The study, recently featured in Preventive Medicine Reports, was spearheaded by Dr. Shihui Peng from the School of Medicine at Jinan University, China. While existing research connects unhealthy diets to numerous chronic diseases, this study aimed to establish a connection between poor dietary habits and infectious diseases like colds and diarrhea.

Dr. Bottorff points out that, given the study’s design, it was not possible to establish a cause-and-effect relationship. Still, the correlation between poor dietary habits, obesity, and respiratory illnesses was well substantiated. She adds that biomedical research supports this connection between obesity and infectious diseases, with recent publications linking it to severe COVID-19 outcomes. Factors such as impaired breathing due to excessive weight and sub-optimal inflammatory and immune responses have been identified as reasons for this increased susceptibility.

Poor dietary habits formed in university, such as consuming high-sugar or high-calorie foods, can lead to long-term problems like obesity. Dr. Bottorff notes that stress and anxiety could lead to overeating, which in turn could cause stress and depression.

Dr. Bottorff asserts the need for universities to offer healthy and affordable food options to students. She says, “We need to consider the food environment we’re creating for our students. Ensuring the availability of healthy food options in our cafeterias and vending machines allows students to make healthier food choices, even on the go.”

Steps are being taken in this direction. UBC Student Wellness and Food Services are collaborating to address food security and food literacy. They acknowledge that the lack of affordable food options, combined with the stresses of university life, can adversely affect students’ dietary choices.

Food-insecure students can utilize a low-barrier food bank and a meal share program. The culinary team at UBCO Food Services focuses on local, organic, and sustainably-sourced ingredients. They work with a registered dietitian to ensure a wide variety of food options for all diners.

Dr. Bottorff acknowledges the improvements in cafeteria food options and mentions the reorganization of drinks in many vending machines, with healthier items placed at eye-level and sugary ones lower down.

She concludes, “Many higher education institutions are actively seeking ways to improve. It’s encouraging because this was not the case just a few years ago. We’re definitely moving in the right direction, but there’s a long journey ahead of us.”

For reference, please check “Does obesity related eating behaviors only affect chronic diseases? A nationwide study of university students in China” by Sihui Peng, Dan Wu, Tingzhong Yang, and Joan L Bottorff, 11 February 2023, Preventive Medicine Reports. DOI: 10.1016/j.pmedr.2023.102135

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Unhealthy college diets

What does the new study about college students’ eating habits reveal?

The study reveals that unhealthy eating habits developed during college years can lead to serious health issues such as obesity, respiratory illnesses, and depression.

Who conducted the study on college students’ eating habits?

The study was conducted by an international research team led by Dr. Joan Bottorff, a Professor at UBCO’s School of Nursing, and Dr. Shihui Peng from the School of Medicine at Jinan University, China.

How many students were involved in the study on eating habits?

Nearly 12,000 medical students from 31 Chinese universities were involved in the study.

What is the potential long-term impact of unhealthy college eating habits?

Unhealthy college eating habits can lead to obesity and related health issues including respiratory illnesses, depression, and potentially an increased vulnerability to infectious diseases.

What actions are suggested to improve the situation?

The study suggests universities should offer healthier, affordable food options. They also need to consider the food environment they’re creating for their students, such as the type of food available in cafeterias and vending machines.

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5 comments

Joe94 July 21, 2023 - 11:01 pm

We really under-estimate what we put in our bodies. It’s not just about looking good, its about feeling good too. Good read.

Reply
Mark L. July 22, 2023 - 5:00 am

kinda scary how your college diet could stick with you for life and cause so many health probs. universities really need to step up with the healthy food.

Reply
BenM July 22, 2023 - 6:52 am

Im a student and it’s a struggle to eat healthy when you’re on a budget. Wish our cafeterias did more to provide affordable nutritious options.

Reply
SophieBaker July 22, 2023 - 9:14 am

This hits close to home. As a student, its just so convenient to grab a burger or fries between classes, I guess we need to rethink our choices.

Reply
SandraT July 22, 2023 - 3:58 pm

I remember my college days…burgers, pizzas, all-nighters with chips and soda. Wish i knew this back then, would’ve definitely eat more salads

Reply

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