Eating healthfully during the college years is notoriously difficult. While the “freshman 15” is probably a bit of an exaggeration, the average teenager enters college at a healthier weight and baseline health status than when they depart in their 20s. In fact, while one-third of children and teenagers are overweight or obese, two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. For many, it is during college that this transition from a healthy weight to an unhealthy weight occurs.
Recognizing the challenges of eating healthy on campus, MyPlate (the federal government’s best advice for how to eat healthfully) recently launched “MyPlate on Campus.” This initiative aims to not only get college students talking about healthy nutrition, but also to recruit college students as “campus ambassadors” to spread the MyPlate message of healthy eating and to share tips on how to increase physical activity. MyPlate campus ambassadors can complete a training module and access resources to help them transform the college experience from “too much pizza and beer” to a healthier, more balanced experience.
The MyPlate ambassadors help their peers learn how to make the best choices in the dining hall, build healthy meals using all of the food groups, prepare meals with just a microwave and mini-fridge, set up their first kitchen and learn basic cooking skills, and make smart nutrition choices anywhere they eat, including fast-food joints and sporting events. The ambassadors also promote increased physical activity by advocating active commuting to class (biking and walking), taking study breaks to do quick exercises like push-ups and jumping jacks, joining exercise classes or intramural teams, and being active when spending time with friends (like hiking).
College students interested in becoming ambassadors should check out MyPlate On Campus for more information. College students that are simply interested in becoming healthier should tune into this sampling of tips gleaned from the MyPlate On Campus Toolkit:
- Head to class prepared. Pack healthy snacks when you head out in the morning so when the urge to snack hits, you won’t turn to a vending machine, which is typically packed with overpriced and heavily processed junk food.
- Eat some foods less often. Let’s face it, college students will always continue to eat pizza and drink beer. But these can be “sometimes” foods that should be eaten in smaller amounts, less frequently. Instead of four slices of pizza and two beers, how about two slices of pizza, one beer, one glass of water and a side salad?
- Drink water. Sodas, caffeine-loaded energy drinks, and sports drinks are a major source of added sugar and calories. Get your caffeine fix from plain coffee or unsweetened iced tea, and drink plenty of water. At the very least, pay close attention to the amount of sugar and calories in these drinks and consume in moderation.
- Grab a friend and get moving. College can be a very social experience. It should be that way for fitness pursuits, too. Make a friend and do something active together.
- Have fun! The most effective form of exercise is the one that you will stick with! So make sure to choose activities that you enjoy.
By Natalie Digate Muth
Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RD, FAAPNatalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RD, FAAP is the Healthcare Solutions Director for the American Council on Exercise, a board-certified pediatrician and Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a Diplomat of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, and ACE-certified health coach. She is the author of "Eat Your Vegetables" and Other Mistakes Parents Make: Redefining How to Raise Healthy Eaters" and the upcoming textbook "Sports Nutrition for Health Professionals". She has been ACE certified since 1998.
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