U promotes obesity awareness to prevent future weight gain

Expert says unhealthy eating can lead to excessive weight gain between ages 30 and 40.

Bob Xiong

A slice of pizza, fries and a medium soda are a typical meal for senior film student Miguel Vargas.

Although many health experts would rail against Vargas’ cuisine, he is content with his eating habits. He said his busy schedule restricts what he eats.

“I eat whatever Coffman (Union) has, and it’s usually not vegetables and healthy stuff,” he said.

Vargas is not alone; according to Boynton Health Service’s 2001 Student Health Assessment Survey, more than 46 percent of students reported eating fast food once per week or more.

But health experts said the fact that everybody’s doing it does not mean it is OK.

Robert Jeffery, a professor at the School of Public Health, said students who eat large amounts of fast food should change their eating habits if they want to prevent excessive future weight gain.

“Those who are not conscious of their eating habits have a 95 percent chance of gaining weight and can expect on average to gain 25 to 30 pounds between ages 30 and 40,” Jeffrey said.

Combined with a lack of exercise, such bad eating habits can lead to obesity, Jeffery said.

In light of these obesity concerns, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services – the federal agency that oversees Medicare and Medicaid – is deciding whether to classify obesity as a disease, which would allow insurance coverage for millions of Americans seeking obesity treatment.

“Obesity is the biggest nutritional issue facing the U.S. at the moment and affects both University employees and students,” Jeffery said. “Obesity has very similar characteristics as that of a chronic disease, but I don’t think it matters what we call it. I doubt that major insurers are likely to embrace the role of providing treatment for obesity anytime soon.”

Jeffery said although the University has implemented several obesity-fighting programs, some University policies – such as all-you-can-eat residence hall food and contracts with Coca-Cola – contribute to the problem.

According to Boynton’s survey, 37 percent of female students and 40 percent of male students have a body mass index (BMI) over twenty-five, which is the benchmark classifying individuals as overweight.

“We have seen an increase in students’ BMIs,” said Dana Farley, Boynton director of health promotions. “We’re concerned with the prevention aspect of obesity, asking students to exercise regularly and eat less fast food.”

Jeffrey added that even though people often view weight as a personal issue – irrelevant to other life aspects – it can seriously affect them in many ways.

Research has shown that weight influences fertility in both men and women. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine suggests excess body fat may make it harder for men’s sperm to complete their upstream swim to fertilize an egg, and excessively overweight women might have trouble becoming pregnant.

“People have the tendency to think that obesity is a personal choice, when in many cases it is not,” Jeffery says. “It can be treated if effectively addressed through eating and exercising.”