Students push UDS to make caloric info more visible

Many students don't know that calorie information for the food at Coffman Union is listed online and in brochures.
October 18, 2010

Looking down at their empty bowls of Panda Express, Sarah Walker and Kassi Knappen said they had no idea how many calories they ate.

"I don’t calorie count," Knappen said.

The two University of Minnesota sophomores said they also didn’t know that the calorie information for all of the food in Coffman Union was posted online and in brochures.

When told the information was available, they still didn’t care.

For that reason, the University’s Student Health Advisory Committee sent a resolution to University Dining Services last week requesting that it post the calorie information on the menu boards in all of its on-campus locations. The two groups will discuss the change at the next SHAC meeting Nov. 4.

Although most of the restaurants and residence halls keep brochures with nutritional information nearby, many students don’t notice them.

"Nobody reads brochures," said Mary Story, a professor and associate dean of student affairs in the School of Public Health. "People aren’t going to look at that. People need to see it right there when they’re ready to order."

Some restaurants in Coffman don’t even have brochures, including Panda Express, where the Beijing Beef entrée alone comes in at 850 calories. Einstein Bros. Bagels doesn’t have them either.

After polishing off an 800-calorie bowl of chow mein and orange chicken, University junior Laura Dickmeyer said she doesn’t think as many people would eat Panda Express if they knew how many calories were in it.

Dickmeyer is one of the few who went online to find the restaurant’s nutritional information.

"Two entrees is like 1,200 calories," she said.

If caloric information were posted on the menus, people would read it while standing in line, and it might convince them to make a different choice, Dickmeyer said.

"It’s definitely something we would consider," Jenna Brott, UDS’ dietician, said.

Since UDS already has the nutritional information for all its food, it would simply be a matter of posting it, she said.

The ultimate decision will be made by University administration in consultation with its dining services provider Aramark, who will assess its cost and feasibility.

SHAC adviser Dave Golden said judging by the way things have gone in the past, he’s optimistic that UDS will work with them on the measure.

"They’ve always taken a real positive approach when it comes to educating students, doing healthy things, being responsive to requests," he said. "I think they really do pay attention to working with college students."

UDS hosts a number of health and wellness events each month and offers nutritional information on its website, including recipes. In August, it hired Brott to provide healthy eating consultation to students.

In January 2008, New York City’s Health Board began requiring chain restaurants with 15 or more locations to post calorie information on menu boards, making it the first city in the country to require calorie posting.

The recent health care reform legislation — which kicks in as soon as 2011 in some areas — will require all chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to post calorie information on their food items as well as dietary intake information.

It’s all in an effort to cushion obesity’s devastating impact on the public.

Over the past two decades, obesity rates in the United States have skyrocketed. In 2009, at least 25 percent of people living in 33 states were obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In nine of those states, at least 30 percent of people were obese. That year, 24.6 percent of Minnesotans were obese.

A 2007 Boynton Health Service survey of students from 14 Minnesota colleges and universities found that 38.4 percent of students fell in the category of overweight, obese or extremely obese.

Eating lunch in Coffman Union on Friday, junior Mubarek Abdi said he never noticed the brochures as he walked through the food lines.

Even if the nutritional information where posted near the menu, Abdi said it wouldn’t make a difference to him.

"Maybe some people might enjoy it," he said. "Not me."

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