5 May. 2017
In high school students are treated like children they are told what to study and what to wear. College is a place for many young adults to leave home, have academic freedom, and begin making their own decisions. For some young adults this is their first time really being away from home, and their first time experiencing the freedom of choice. One of those important choices being diet. Consider the VCU freshman. VCU may be known for its diversity, but it is not known for a wide variety of healthy food options on campus.
According to VCU’s website, there were 4,234 first-time freshman enrolled in fall of 2016. While these freshmen were not required to live in the dorms, it is highly suggested by the university. Within the majority of these dorms there aren’t any kitchens, forcing students to be required to purchase a meal plan. Many students who are not required to purchase a meal plan still do because their schedules are so hectic, and the easy access to fast food is convenient. VCU’s meal plans are expensive, inflexible, and required for all freshmen living in 60% of the offered dorms. The students that are required to purchase these meal plans only have three options, 200, 250, and 300 meal swipes, which are combined with dining dollars. These meal plans range from $1,844 to $2,242 per semester. Sam Isaacs, staff writer for the Commonwealth Times, writes, “Roughly 88,000 swipes go unused each semester at VCU, according to Tamara Highsmith, manager of VCU Dining Services. VCU doesn’t allow students to roll unused swipes into the next semester, which means at least $1 million in annual losses for students with meal plans”. This waste of student’s money is just the beginning of the problem.
VCU has very limited healthy eating options on and around campus that are associated with the meal plans. There are 23 dining locations that are associated with the meal plans offered. A few of these locations being Taco Bell, Chic-Fil-A, Panda Express, IHOP Express, Raising Canes, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks. We are familiar with these names, and many would consider them fast food. According to VCU’s dining website, only five of their locations, 22%, are considered “eat well” options. Jordan Davis, student at Cornell University, writes,
The college years are ones in which lifetime eating habits can be, and generally are, formed. Unfortunately, away from home for the first time for many, students often see this transitional period as a time to divulge in unhealthy feasts featuring pizza, pastas, and all sorts of desserts. The change in lifestyle, including increased stress levels and new social surroundings, can lead students down a scary slippery slope of decreasing focus on nutritious eating. Students may be looking to (sub) consciously revolt, in a way, against the traditional eating habits that parents forces upon them for all the previous years. “No dessert until after you finish your veggies,” moms will often say.
The fact that VCU offers so many fast food options on their campus seems as though they are condoning, and maybe even promoting these lifelong unhealthy eating habits. Personally I know I gained some bad eating habits my freshmen year. I was used to staying up until midnight working on assignments, starving, and finding that the only place open was Raising Canes, or IHOP Express. Marcy Spalsbury, student of Grand Valley State University, researched improving nutrition on college campuses. Spalsbury writes,
On average, first year college students gain about 3.86lbs. Although this certainly is no 15lbs as indicated by the “freshman fifteen,” the rapid changes in weight experienced by first 3 year college students provide implications about their health behaviors, and more importantly their eating habits. Nutritionally, many students fail to meet the national guidelines and goals of Healthy People 2020.
This is important because the freshman fifteen is widely known, but it is not about the amount of weight gained, it is about the eating habits gained that stick with you for life. Breaking habits is much more difficult than losing a few pounds. Many students do not realize that these decisions they are making can affect them for the rest of their lives.
VCU and other universities alike need to make a change in the food options associated with their meal plans. College can be the most stressful time in a persons life, let alone a first year college student. They are not trying to transition from high school to college, but they are also learning how to be responsible for themselves and balance academics with a social life. These students can feel overwhelmed and vulnerable. The least VCU, and other universities, could do is try to make eating healthy easier to take away some of the stress and anxieties they are experiencing.
Davis, Jordan.(2014 March 4). Nutrition of campus dining: an increasing matter of worry.[Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.cornell.edu/foodstories/2014/03/03/nutrition-of-campus-dining-an-increasing-matter-of-worry/
Isaacs, S. “Unused swipes cost students more than $1 million annually.” Commonwealth Times, 28 Apr. 2013. Retrieved from http://www.commonwealthtimes.org/2013/04/28/unused-swipes-cost-students-more-than-1-million-annually/
Spalsbury, Marcy, “Suggested Approaches to Improving Nutrition Status of College Students: A Literature Review” (2013). Honors Projects. Paper 196. http://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1246&context=honorsprojects
Virginia Commonwealth University Dine. “Dinging Locations,” Virginia Commonwealth University. Retrieved from http://vcu.campusdish.com/Locations.aspx
Virginia Commonwealth University Dine. “Dinging Plans,” Virginia Commonwealth University. Retrieved from https://vcu.campusdish.com/Commerce/Catalog/ShopSubCategory.aspx?category=All_Products_7910&lid=7910&root=Meal_Plan
Virginia Commonwealth University. “Residential Life And Housing,” Virginia Commonwealth University. Retrieved from http://www.housing.vcu.edu/halls/freshmen-halls/
Virginia Commonwealth University. “Undergraduate Admissions,” Virginia Commonwealth University. Retrieved from https://www.ugrad.vcu.edu/apply/freshman/classprofile.html