With the realities of hectic schedules, long study hours and late nights, maintaining a balanced diet can get lost in the shuffle of college life. Despite the variety of food available on a college campus, students often fall into an unhealthy meal routine with potential long-term negative health effects. One such result of a poorly balanced diet is malnutrition, the condition that results from a diet in which nutrients are lacking, in excess or in the wrong proportions.
“People always assume that malnutrition is a deficiency, but if you look at the definition it can be a deficiency or an excess of nutrients,” said Elizabeth Bailey, health and human performance professor at Elon University. “When we talk about malnutrition in the United States, a lot of the time we are talking about an excess – excess calories, excess fats, excess sodium and so on. It doesn’t have to be a severe deficiency to affect health either, just a deficiency.”
Chips, soda, Ramen noodles and energy drinks are commonly perceived as staple foods of the busy college student who must quickly move from class to class. Busy daily schedules lead many students to opt for a quick snack as opposed to sitting down for balanced meals.
A shortage of food is not the problem, Bailey said. The problem is a shortage of good food that is cheap, easy and convenient for college students nationwide.
“The presence and convenience of junk food in college can cause students to fall into bad eating habits,” Bailey said. “But on campus there are good choices. It’s just a matter if students can fit them into their busy lives, if they are portable or if their hours and availability match up with their schedule. But there are good options everywhere. It is all about making the choice to find them and work them in.”
In order to encourage healthy living on campus, Elon has partnered with ARAMARK Dining Services in order to both prevent and counteract the effects of a poorly balanced diet. Elon looks to provide a variety of healthy food options for students.
“We are committed to providing a wide range of healthy choices to our customers,” said Katie Nelson, marketing manager of Elon Dining Services. “Our dining hall menus are designed to provide a diverse assortment of food options that easily allow students to select a healthy and well-balanced diet.”
In addition to providing a variety of healthy menu options, Elon and ARAMARK have developed programs to help students proactively manage their health and wellness goals.
According to Nelson, the Campus Dish mobile app was launched in order to assist students in making informed meal selections. Additionally, the Food That Fits Your Life program features indicators on the menu that make it easy to identify foods that are lower in fat, calories and carbs as well as foods that are organic, vegetarian or locally grown. By creating simple yet thorough nutrition platforms, Elon allows for students to make informed dietary decisions quickly and encourages healthy eating habits among its students.
“Unless we have better nutrition education across the board available to everyone, then there is great potential for continuation of the trends in place which certainly include malnutrition in a number of forms,” Bailey said. “We need better education and better access because there is not equal opportunity for all people to lead a balanced diet. It is most definitely not a simple issue, but it is extremely important for college students to remain knowledgeable about the impacts of a poorly balanced diet.”