UND takes aim at adolescent obesityFor freshman college students, the combination of being away from home for the first time and newfound freedoms can prompt the piling on of extra weight.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
For freshman college students, the combination of being away from home for the first time and newfound freedoms can prompt the piling on of extra weight.
Forget about the “Freshman 15,” those pounds that students typically gain the first year of college. Now, it’s the “Freshman 50” that UND health and fitness professionals want to prevent through a variety of initiatives aimed at raising awareness and promoting physical activity.
“I hate to say it, but almost every freshman goes through this,” said Steph Hoffman, coordinator of fitness at the UND Wellness Center. “We want to stop that sort of thing from happening.”
The array of food choices can be overwhelming and all-too-tempting.
With on-campus dining, “kids have a smorgasbord of foods to choose from,” said Hoffman. “It’s right in front of them, and they can eat whatever they want.”
Plus, “they’re studying and not getting exercise, so they’re not burning all those calories.”
The Wellness Center, along with other student-oriented entities, is taking dead aim at adolescent obesity — one of the country’s most critical health issues — even to the point of addressing it before fall semester begins.
During summer orientation, students tour the Wellness Center, Hoffman said, “to give them an early view of the center and its services, and to get them familiar and comfortable here.”
It’s an opportunity for students “to start early on the changes they want to make,” she said.
The Center’s services are free to most UND students as part of their mandatory activity fees.
‘Exercise is Medicine’
New this fall in the fight against obesity is a collaborative effort called “Exercise is Medicine,” between UND’s Wellness Center, Student Health Center and Counseling Center.
Students who seek counseling or health services will receive information about how exercise can prevent heart disease, obesity and mental illness, including depression and anxiety.
They’ll receive nutritional guidelines recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Physicians will ask how much exercise they’re getting,” Hoffman said, and, as needed, will “actually write out a prescription for exercise.”
For example, “if someone is depressed, we’ll work out some specific group (exercise) classes,” she said. But students won’t be forced to comply.
“If they’re not comfortable in a class setting, we’ll suggest a certain amount of walking,” she said. “We want them to be as comfortable as possible, to get them started with exercise and physical activity.”
This “very deliberate” collaborative campus effort to address students’ physical fitness has been embraced by her colleagues, Hoffman said.
“They’ve been all over it. They’ve been chomping at the bit to get it started.”
College students overlooked
At a time when obesity among Americans has reached epidemic proportions, the college generation often is overlooked.
“People don’t look at this age cohort as closely,” said Dr. Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to protecting communities’ health and preventing disease.
“Since you certainly can find a lot of data showing that kids today under 18, under 19 are becoming more and more obese, they’re moving on to college — this is a trend that’s been going on for 20 years — and clearly, admission to college doesn’t suddenly eliminate those rates of obesity.”
The percent of overweight and obese American college students increased from 27.4 percent in fall 2006 to 29.2 percent in fall 2011, according to the American College Health Association.
The organization based its findings on body mass index, or BMI, a standard indicator of obesity, which is calculated from an individual’s self-reported height and weight. A BMI in the range of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, while a BMI of 30 to 34.9 is obese.
More than one-third of American adults, about 35.7 percent, are obese today, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Moreover, during a recent Washington conference sponsored by the CDC, a new study forecast an even grimmer picture for the next two decades. The research, conducted by Eric A. Finkelstein at Duke University, which appeared online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, predicted that 42 percent of Americans would be obese by 2030, including a 33 percent increase over the next 20 years.
Weight-training, fitness assessment
To encourage students to pursue health and fitness, and introduce them to the benefits of weight- and strength-training, UND’s Wellness Center also offers an array of options including “Getting Started with Weight” which teaches proper lifting techniques that will prevent students from injuring themselves.
Fitness assessments provide students with personalized information on body composition, cardiovascular function, and strength and flexibility status they can use as a basis for setting fitness goals.
“Flexibility is particularly crucial later in life,” she said. “It’s about life balance, being able to do daily activities like walking up stairs or picking things up off the floor.
“If you’re weak, you won’t be able to that — especially when you’re older.”
The Center offers group exercise classes — such as yoga, Zumba, TurboKick and cycling — which “is the fun side of fitness,” Hoffman said.
A new area, “off the beaten path,” is being renovated especially for “nonusers” — those who do not come to the Center — who want to focus on strength-training, but not in view of a lot of other students.
“It’s a way to help these students start working toward a healthier lifestyle,” she said.
All programs are tied into education.
Culinary Corner, a division of the Wellness Center, presents free or low-cost weekly cooking classes that demonstrate “how students can make meals in their dorms or apartments with little cash flow,” she said.
During a recent class, “Cheap, Fast and Healthy,” students learned how to prepare a vegetable-rich, Vietnamese soup, called pho, that featured rice noodles, ginger, beef tips and broth.
Instructor Roger Quinn taught proper cutting techniques and talked about techniques that would make the dish spicier or change its texture.
“I prepared all this for $15. It fed eight of you, and it could have fed a couple more,” he told the class. “Fresh vegetables will keep costs down.”
As college students, Leah Collison said she missed the venison stew she ate at home, and Jennifer Noive, being part Irish, said she missed corned beef and cabbage.
Most students in the class said they grew up enjoying vegetables but eating bok choy was a new experience.
For those students who didn’t have a lot of guidance on healthy eating, UND Dining Services can offer some assistance.
Students who take their meals on campus can check the “Guiding Stars” program that alerts them to the healthiest choices on the menu, with one- to three-star designations. Items marked with three stars are the best choice for the health-conscious.
These programs are meant to encourage students to adopt a healthier lifestyle while they are young — an approach that should yield lifelong benefits, Hoffman said.
“If you start ’em early, and it becomes part of life early on, they never forget it.”
Embracing these habits in college is critical, and may help stave off obesity-related illness, such as diabetes and heart disease, later. Even baby steps will help.
“There are little things that you can do, like if you have study breaks, make them walking study breaks,” Levi said. “Stand up from time to time, walk around the block, leave the library — whatever it might take to be more physically active and to be much more conscious about the food choices you make.
“The consequences of obesity are happening earlier and earlier,” Levi said, “and living with chronic disease and managing those chronic diseases will really be a distraction from building a career and from building a life.”
Sydney Carter of Capital News Service contributed to this report. Call Knudson at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1107; or send e-mail to email@example.com.