Colleges may need to ramp up the healthy food choices they offer on campus, according to the lead author of a University of Minnesota study released last week.
Twin Cities college students who didn’t live on campus but purchased food there had diets similar to consumers who eat fast food on a regular basis, the study found.
Those students ate more fat and added sugar and skipped meals more often than their peers, according to the study.
Jennifer Pelletier, the study’s lead author and a doctoral student in the School of Public Health, said she thought the difference in diet was due to the kinds of food available on college campuses.
“There’s similarity in the types of foods that students are purchasing on campus and what they’re purchasing at fast food restaurants,” she said.
Students who brought food from home “looked better on all of the dietary measures that we examined,” Pelletier said.
In response to the findings, she suggested a “two-pronged” approach: Colleges should offer more healthy food options and nutrition counselors should tell patients to bring food from home.
Offering diverse dining options
University officials say there are a variety of food choices on campus, and they’ll continue efforts to inform students of available healthy options.
The University has “a lot more” à la carte options than most other colleges in the nation, said Leslie Bowman, contract administrator for University Dining Services.
The Coffman Union cafeteria offers Panda Express, where a serving of the popular Orange Chicken and steamed rice contains 640 mg of sodium and 820 calories. At nearby Greens To Go, where students can choose salad ingredients, a large salad with Caesar chicken, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, croutons and Italian dressing contains 800 mg of sodium and 260 calories.
“Yes, Panda Express is very popular, but Greens To Go is quickly gaining grounds with our students,” said Suzanne Hedrick, marketing manager for dining services.
Many students who choose fast food options on campus developed those habits during high school, she said.
UDS Director Karen DeVet said there’s still work the University can do. Based on the study results, she said, the University should keep making sure students know about healthy food options on campus.
As part of this effort, she said, UDS has a registered dietician whom students can see for free.
‘Appealing’ but unhealthy food
Some students said the study’s results weren’t surprising.
Campus food offerings in places like Coffman are “too fatty,” said Ayub Limat, a senior in the Clinical Laboratory Sciences Program, adding that there’s “a lot of junk food.”
Nutrition sophomore Susan Wroblewski said she thinks the University does offer some healthy options, like sandwiches and smoothies. But unhealthy options are more abundant, cheaper and more appetizing, she said.
Communications junior Erica Hedtke said she wasn’t surprised by the study’s results, either, because on-campus food is quick and convenient but also unhealthy.
“I can see how it’s attractive,” she said, but “some of us see past it.”
Hedtke, who commutes from Richfield, Minn., said she brings food from home mainly to save money, but she said it’s better for her, too.
“My food is healthier than what’s in [Coffman],” she said.