Those extra pounds inching around some students’ waists might not be only from late-night pizzas and candy, according to a recent study.
Cornell University conducted the survey, and researchers found the more food young adults are served, the more food they will eat, possibly leading to problems such as overeating or obesity.
In the study, researchers gave Cornell undergraduates buffet-style lunches that grew in size weekly. As meal sizes grew, so did the amount students ate.
Buffet-served meals are common in all cafeterias here, and University officials said students can avoid weight problems by choosing to eat healthy foods, eating in proportion and exercising.
Robert Jefferey, a University epidemiology professor and obesity expert, said all-you-can-eat buffets put people at risk for overeating.
“There’s plenty of evidence around that shows if you give people larger portion sizes, they tend to eat more,” he said.
Weight gain is typical for college student in his or her first year, he said.
Purchasing University Dining Services meal plans with buffet-style service is mandatory for thousands of University students who live in residence halls.
On the plans, students can eat as much as they want at every meal.
Jeffrey said human beings are not good at preventing overeating.
“If you let nature take its course, you’ll eat too much,” he said.
Jeffrey said buffet-style cafeterias put responsibility on students to control their own weight.
They can monitor their weight by weighing themselves, and avoiding fried foods, sweetened beverages, fruit drinks and salty snacks, he said.
Working it out
Exercising routines can change dramatically when students start college, sometimes causing weight to increase.
Lisa Lemler, fitness program manager for the University recreation center, said many new students at the University were used to having four practices a week as athletes in high school. That often changes when some students come to college.
“When they’re not obligated to work out anymore, it becomes a personal decision, a lifestyle choice,” she said.
Lemler said a large problem is the food students choose to eat. Many students eat poorly, often eating a hamburger and fries several times per week.
“Basically, it’s balance,” Lemler said. “You have to balance what you take in versus what you’re putting out.”
Lemler said physical activity is a key component to successful weight loss. She said that nationally, the most successful weight-loss programs are those that include exercise.
Students come to the recreation center for many reasons, Lemler said, including staying in shape, fulfilling specific goals or releasing stress.
Making good choices
First-year clothing design student Jill Peterson said she believes UDS food causes students to gain weight.
“The food they serve is deepfried, greasy, unhealthy food,” she said.
Peterson said she doesn’t think students are very conscious of what they’re eating when they come to college. She avoids unhealthy food to control her weight, she said.
“If you’re aware of what you’re eating, it always makes a difference,” she said.
UDS Director Larry Weger said the service tries to offer a variety of food, but students have to make healthy eating decisions if they want to watch their weight.
By the end of this semester, Weger said, UDS hopes to complete a new healthy food initiative called “Just 4U,” in which some buffet foods will be accompanied by individual icons. The icons will show whether certain foods are vegetarian, vegan, low-fat or heart-healthy, among other indicators.
Weger said he doesn’t believe UDS’s buffet-style cafeterias contribute to unhealthy habits in students.
“The structure of the plan is not going to dictate how students eat,” he said. “Students’ habits and preferences are going to dictate what they eat.”