Students At Risk For More Than Freshman 15

PHILADELPHIA – Next time you think about grabbing that sugary snack, you might want to think again. Research conducted at the University of New Hampshire of 800 undergraduate students showed that not only is excess fat a problem plaguing college students, but many of them have high blood pressure and high cholesterol and suffer from a deficiency of nutrients such as fiber, calcium and iron.

The research was part of a course taught by Ingrid Lofgren, Ruth Reilly and Jesse Morrell at UNH entitled “Nutrition in Health and Well Being.” “We were capitalizing on something we do here at UNH,” said Morrell. “We wanted to not just give students information but to integrate [self-assessment] into learning about disease.”

Joanne Burke, a clinical assistant professor at UNH who also worked on this study, added: “The test results are based on a one time assessment, so we didn’t really diagnose students with high blood pressure. Rather, the results were above normal, and it’s surely something we want to follow-up on.”

The study found that 66 percent of male and 50 percent of female students had at least one risk factor for heart disease or diabetes, which include high blood pressure, high blood glucose and excess abdominal fat, and that women in particular had low levels of fiber, iron, calcium and folate. Burke added that the results were “very much an eye opener for students” since many believed that such symptoms were common among elderly people but not college students.

And while such a wide-ranging assessment has not been done at Penn, there are many steps the university has taken to promote healthy lifestyles. Dr. Evelyn Wiener, Penn’s director of Student Health Services, noted that while most visits to Student Health deal with minor infectious diseases or injuries, all clinical visits now involve checking a person’s blood pressure.

This is different from when Wiener started at Penn 20 years ago, she said. But she noted that screening a student for high cholesterol is typically done only once every five years unless there is a reason, such as family history, to screen more often. In terms of prevention of these risk factors, Wiener said that in addition to proper nutritional choices and daily exercise, avoiding cigarette smoking is imperative as “cigarette smoking raises the risk in any of those conditions 10-fold.”

Wiener as well as Penn Dining Services stressed how important it is for students to avoid trans-fats. Patrick Morgan, assistant director of business services, said that in addition to eliminating trans-fats from dining halls, Penn Dining has nutrition information available on its Web site. It also provides whole grain options and maintains a dietician on staff.

“Penn students are very health conscious,” Morgan said. “The top selling item at Houston are salads and the single most requested food item is fruit, and I think that says something about Penn student concerns.”

And students seem to be concerned about varying degrees of health risks beyond the freshman 15. Rising College sophomore Meera Rao, who lived in a healthy living residential program last year, wrote in an e-mail that making healthy choices was easier because of the program and it was “like a positive form of peer pressure.”

Still, she noted that it’s up to “individuals to make healthy decisions.” But rising College junior Shanellah Verna, who is another member of the healthy living program said, “I don’t really think Penn students are [aware of problems] such as low fiber. Metamucil just doesn’t seem like it’s for our demographic.”

But according to the results at UNH, it may not be a bad idea.

Article courtesy of the Daily Pennsylvanian at the University of Pennsylvania

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