College Students and their Health

When I first attended college back in 2003, the types of food I was eating, or seeking out, was not on the top of my priority list, and it certainly didn’t cause me to think how it might affect my health. I’m willing to bet most people don’t think about their food choices when they are in college, unless they are in a nutrition degree or some other health related course of studies.

Slice em up good! Sweet Potatoes are a great source of nutrition, can be filling, and are super tasty.

Slice em up good! Sweet Potatoes are a great source of nutrition, can be filling, and are super tasty.

This is broad and I’m sure there are others who do take care of themselves. I am speaking from personal experience though, and I can say that there aren’t many that I knew who were really taking into consideration what they were eating. Unless of course they were trying to lose tons of weight, or put on lots of muscle.

I do remember eating lots of whatever Costco had to offer in the way of baked goods for breakfast. A Costco blueberry muffin after all is big, tasty, and no cooking is required. When on sale, I could get frozen pizzas for $1 and after 15 minutes, I had a toasty pizza. In honesty I tried to eat half, because hey, it’s a pizza. My stomach petitioned for more though and more times than not I would oblige. Both examples were calorie rich, but nutrition poor.

It’s no wonder to me why so many will gain the “freshman fifteen”, or the 10-15 pounds of body weight that accompanies so many new students.

A study done looking at what the authors call “food insecurity” looked at students and determined, based on surveys, that they had poor access to nutritious food, either by limited funds or uncertainty. [1] The study, done in Australia, found that students who worked, relied on family, or received government aid, were more insecure than those who were financially able. As many as 25% even experienced hunger.

The study also found that the food insecurity was higher in college students than the general population.

A study in Hawaii found that as many as 45% of students experienced this food insecurity. [2]

Yet another study found similar patterns to the one in Australia, that students with low-income, low GPA’s, having fair/poor health, or working all have higher rates of this food insecurity. [3]

It could be argued that people with lower levels of health have this problem cause by lack of nutrition and not the other way around. I do agree that the healthiest foods and the more expensive variety. Congress subsidizes things like soy and corn, not green beans and broccoli.

So what’s a student to do to stay healthy? After all poor nutrition leads to poor outcomes. One thing I couldn’t stand were the colds I would get while in college. I’m sure stress had something to do with that too.

If a student has a fridge and can cook their own meals, then they should store some good food and cook their own meals. Frozen veggies and fruits store longer than fresh and are better than canned. Canned is better than nothing, but fresh and frozen is best. They take little to heat up in a pan and with some chicken and seasoning make for a quick and healthier option than pizza.

Veggies, fresh or frozen, are a must have for college students.

Veggies, fresh or frozen, are a must have for college students.

Fruit is good too, but can be pricey. If you can get a bargain on some apples, get some. If not, be careful with how much fruit you buy. While healthy, it’s not the biggest bang for your buck.

Rice is a good source of carbs since you can store it almost indefinitely and a little goes a long way. It does require a little time, but if you get a cheap rice cooker, you can cook rice, and a few minutes before it’s done, throw in the frozen veggies to have ready for when the rice is done. Saves time and is inexpensive. Plus you can make double or triple and save some for lunch the next day.

Chicken can usually be found for reasonable prices, especially if you’re willing to deal with bone in. It makes for a good protein. Tuna is another one, in the can of course ( don’t get it with the oil though). If you can’t stand either, ground beef might be a likelier option, though you’ll have to do some shopping to find a good price, or just find it on sale.

For those that go to the cafeteria, it’s a little different picture. The cafeteria is great if you have a food plan because it’s saves the time of cooking and clean up. It’s the options presented that can be problematic.

Pizza, as mentioned earlier, is full of a lot of empty calories. I’m not saying don’t ever eat it, just make sure it’s once in a while rather than 3-4 times per week. Load up on veggies along with whatever protein source you can. You’ll feel full longer than if you load up on carbs. Fruit once or twice a day is good too during lunch or dinner at the cafeteria. Sometimes it can add up though, depending on how the cafeteria is run. .

Stick to regular milk rather than chocolate milk. Again that’s most of the time. One time a week of chocolate milk won’t hurt, but every single day is a lot of extra sugar. Water should be a staple. Get a good water bottle and keep it filled up. There’s no need to buy water all the time, especially when it’s free.

Cherry pie will make you happy. GUARANTEED! Although it will be shortlived. So only indulge once in a while. So make it a real treat and not a waistline gainer.

Cherry pie will make you happy. GUARANTEED! Although it will be shortlived. So only indulge once in a while. So make it a real treat and not a waistline gainer.

Excess sugar can cause things like increase weight and problems with stress. Dessert should be an ocassional treat, not a daily event. I know it’s hard at times because sweets relieve stress, at least temporarily, but they add up to a ticking time bomb if not kept in check. Exercise, emotional support, mediation, church groups, or maybe a weekend of Star Wars is a much better coping mechanism to stress than dessert.

Alcohol is another leacher of nutrition, specifically B vitamins. I recommend not drinking at all. If it is a must, benders, keggers, 21 runs, and frat parties should be avoided. They do nothing to further academic achievement and void your body of essential things it needs to help you in studying. I remember a few times in the anatomy lab trying to help students that had horrible headaches from the previous night’s parties. They had a spectacularly difficult time in anatomy.

If it’s in the budget, a multivitamin is probably a good call. It can help fill in some of the gaps. If not, stick to the veggies.

In short, tupperware and a little thinking ahead (look at the paragraph about rice) can keep a college student fed and with some nutritious foods as well. I personally believe that if we actually taught people health and then made them accountable for it, many health problems in this country would soon disappear. I’m talking actually teaching nutrition and not just show teenagers slides of STD’s in “health” class.

In the end your health, and your nutrition status is your responsiblity. Learn about it and learn what you can do to better it.

CIAO

 

1.Hughes R, Serebryanikova I, Donaldson K, Leveritt M. Student food insecurity: The skeleton in the university closet. Nutrition & Dietetics. 2011;68(1):27-32

2.Chaparro MP, Zaghloul SS, Holck P, Dobbs J. Food insecurity prevalence among college students at the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa. Public Health Nutrition.
2009;12(11):2097-2103

3.Prevalence and Correlates of Food Insecurity Among Students Attending a Midsize Rural University in Oregon Patton-López, Megan M. et al. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior , Volume 46 , Issue 3 , 209 – 214

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Writing Your Way to Health

Unleash your mind power with a good ol fashion pen and paper

Unleash your mind power with good ol fashion pen and paper

Writing is something that all of us have done from time to time. Maybe it hasn’t been a novel or a movie script, but even a grocery list counts as writing. Keeping a journal also counts. I’ve heard over the years that writing can be therapeutic in different ways and wanted to discuss just a few of these things today, especially since drugs aren’t always the answer and finding other avenues of treatment for the mind is useful, especially when it’s free.

In a study of college students, researchers looked at how writing would affect depressive symptoms in those students. College, after all, can be a trying time for many a student. The students were instructed to write on their “deepest thoughts and feelings on current and past emotional upheavals” (intervention) or “time management conditions” (control). [1] It was set for three consecutive 20 minute sessions, plus a booster session 5 weeks later. Depressive symptoms were measured just before the first of three session, just before the 5 week booster and 6 months later.

Students in the “feelings” group did report lower depression scores than those in the control group. The 5 week booster seemed to have no effect. It would be interesting to see if this study was repeated, but with more writing sessions instead of 4, and on a more consistent basis.

In a study with cancer patients, subjects were asked to write about their feelings and thoughts of the cancer, or neutral topics, on four different occasions. Patients writing about their feelings exhibited better physical functioning scores and seemed to improve the cancer related symptoms. [2]

In another intervention in marriages, couples who were experiencing discord and disagreements were assigned to a control or writing group. The writing group was asked 3 specific questions and they were given time to write about them. The writing wasn’t started until a year into the study. The couples who wrote had their downward spiral level off, while the couples who didn’t write, continued in decline. [3] It’s not to say that writing fixed all the problems in the relationship, but it did make an environment from which they could come together and not continue to grow apart.

Writing about it may also be an important step. And I mean actually taking out a pen or pencil and paper and writing, rather than just typing on a keyboard. In a study looking at brain scans and writing, good writers showed more activation in areas of “cognition, language, and executive functions, consistent with predictions, and also in working memory, motor planning, and timing”. [4] This may be beneficial when helping a person really use their brain in coping or figuring out emotional problems.

In another look at typing vs longhand, it was found that people who write notes tend to assimilate information and process it to write it down, whereas typers just assimilate and type the facts. In other words, writing notes longhand while learning allow people to understand concepts better than if they were to type. Actual facts are maintained about the same in both groups. [5]

I think this is some good advice in general; to write regularly and to try to write instead of type. I’ve noticed in my own writing, my style changes when I’m brainstorming or just rambling vs when I’m being direct or making a point. When I write a prescription for example, my writing is neat, organized, and very legible. When I’m taking notes in a class or a meeting, it is more sloppy and all over the place, and not just because I’m trying to be quick.

Does this mean anything? I think it is reflective of different parts of my brain being utilized when writing, I think that’s obvious. It probably goes deeper than that, but I’m no neuro-expert. What I am convinced of is that writing can be beneficial for all sorts of things, but you have to do it to get the benefit. It also appears that focusing on your thoughts and feelings, in other words, what is actually being processed by you, is far more important than just writing about what you did or what you’re going to do, say in a schedule.

Maybe this writing doesn’t have to be everyday, but regularly, whatever that is, would probably be best. Maybe that’s a journal once a week or month. Maybe writing is part of work and your sick of writing already. Sometimes a break from the things we do is part of health as well, or at least changing what we write about.

Writing blog posts regularly can sometimes be a bit boring, so I’m writing a novel on the side for fun. It has reinvigorated my love for writing and now the blog doesn’t seem like a chore as sometimes it can.

Being intentional about writing can be useful too. In the studies listed above, postive outcomes were seen when subjects were answering specific questions about what problems they were facing. So write specifically. If you don’t want to, then at least try writing.

So if any of you want to try a different approach to depression, pain, cancer, crazy children, or anything else, I give you this challenge; write about it.

I’d love to hear any experiences anyone has had with this in the comments.

CIAO

 

1.Gortner, Eva-Maria, Stephanie S. Rude, and James W. Pennebaker. “Benefits of expressive writing in lowering rumination and depressive symptoms.” Behavior therapy 37.3 (2006): 292-303.

2.Milbury, Kathrin, et al. “Randomized controlled trial of expressive writing for patients with renal cell carcinoma.” Journal of Clinical Oncology 32.7 (2014): 663-670.

3.Finkel, Eli J., et al. “A brief intervention to promote conflict reappraisal preserves marital quality over time.” Psychological science (2013): 0956797612474938.

4.Berninger, Virginia W., et al. “fMRI activation related to nature of ideas generated and differences between good and poor writers during idea generation.” BJEP Monograph Series II, Number 6-Teaching and Learning Writing. Vol. 77. No. 93. British Psychological Society, 2009. 77-93.

5.Mueller, Pam A., and Daniel M. Oppenheimer. “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking.” Psychological science (2014): 0956797614524581.