The Obesity Epidemic on Campus

| April 22, 2013 | 0 Comments
A chart demonstrating recommended portions on the left and commonly seen portion sizes today.

A chart demonstrating recommended portions on the left and commonly seen portion sizes today.

With an unlimited meal plan and buffet-style meals, do we Harvard students know how big our portions should be?  Portion distortion is a key contributing factor to the global obesity epidemic, as food portions have more than doubled over the last two decades in America’s restaurants[1].  If we are accustomed to being served super-sized portions, we might not realize when we are serving ourselves over-sized portions in our dining halls.

In fact, researchers have found that portion distortion is an even greater problem in cafeteria settings like ours, noting a positive association between larger food receptacles and increased consumption[2].  A correlational study at Cornell found significant weight gain in freshmen during the first twelve weeks of school and identified that both the “all-you-can-eat” dining hall style and student snacking on “junk-food” were key variables explaining a positive linear relationship with weight gain[3].

An outline of a meal plan might help demonstrate the degree to which portion sizes have grown in our culture.  If a person eats a 6-inch bagel and a 16-ounce coffee with sugar and milk for breakfast, two slices of pepperoni pizza and a 20-ounce soda for lunch, and a chicken Caesar salad and a 20-ounce soda for dinner, then that person has consumed about 1,600 calories more than a person twenty years ago would have, eating those same foods at portion sizes that were common at the time[4].  The standard portions of common menu items that health professionals recommend, by contrast, are small.  A serving of pasta should be a half cup, a serving of lean meat should be 3 ounces (around the size of a deck of cards), and the meat of your hamburger should be 3 ounces as well[5].

Keeping the Cornell study in mind, which implicated junk food and buffet-style eating as major contributors to weight gain, and taking on a macroscopic view, major risk factors contributing to the global obesity epidemic in fact include the growing presence of imported foods and fast foods in other countries and an increase in portion size.  Micronesia just might be the perfect example.  Around two out of every three Micronesians are obese, compared to one in three in the United States[6].  A resident in Kosrae, Micronesia noted that imported fast food items such as “turkey tail, corned beef, [and] Spam,” are making residents sick and fat.  A doctor at a local hospital gave another simple reason: “basically we eat a lot of food… we eat servings that are two or three times what are served in the United States.”

Globally, nationally, and across college campuses, large portion sizes and fast foods are spreading the obesity epidemic.  As both variables have been implicated in campus-wide as well as country-wide studies, effective intervention methods could include establishing regulations on portions served at fast food restaurants, and labeling food trays at buffet-style cafeterias with suggested portion size information.

As college students, we are easily influenced by the obesity epidemic, and should be mindful of what we eat.  Our dining halls give us full control over the critical variables of the type and quantity of food we eat; let’s not let ourselves experience a similar ballooning effect as that of Micronesia in our very own campus microcosm.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

Bryant, Rachel, and Lauren Dundes. “Portion Distortion: A Study of College Students.”Journal of Consumer Affairs 39.2 (2005): 399-408. Print.

 

Levitsky, D. A., C. A. Halbmaier, and G. Mrdjenovic. “The Freshman Weight Gain: A Model for the Study of the Epidemic of Obesity.” International Journal of Obesity28.11 (2004): 1435-442. Print.

 

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and National Cancer Institute. “Larger Portion Sizes Contribute to U.S. Obesity Problem.” News & Events, NHLBI, NIH. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 12 Feb. 2013. Web. 20 Apr. 2013.

 

Nazario, Brunilda. “Portion Size Plate.” WebMD. WebMD, 8 Jan. 2013. Web. 20 Apr. 2013.

 

“What Is Making Pacific Islanders Fat?” USA Today [Mclean, VA] 9 May 2004: n. pag.USA Today. Web. 20 Apr. 2013.


[1] National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and National Cancer Institute. “Larger Portion Sizes Contribute to U.S. Obesity Problem.” News & Events, NHLBI, NIH. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 12 Feb. 2013. Web. 20 Apr. 2013.

[2] Bryant, Rachel, and Lauren Dundes. “Portion Distortion: A Study of College Students.”Journal of Consumer Affairs 39.2 (2005): 399-408. Print.

[3] Levitsky, D. A., C. A. Halbmaier, and G. Mrdjenovic. “The Freshman Weight Gain: A Model for the Study of the Epidemic of Obesity.” International Journal of Obesity28.11 (2004): 1435-442. Print.

[4] National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and National Cancer Institute. “Larger Portion Sizes Contribute to U.S. Obesity Problem.” News & Events, NHLBI, NIH. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 12 Feb. 2013. Web. 20 Apr. 2013.

[5] Nazario, Brunilda. “Portion Size Plate.” WebMD. WebMD, 8 Jan. 2013. Web. 20 Apr. 2013.

[6] “What Is Making Pacific Islanders Fat?” USA Today [Mclean, VA] 9 May 2004: n. pag.USA Today. Web. 20 Apr. 2013.

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