SFU needs to think harder about student nutrition

The longer us students treat our instant-noodle diets like a joke, the harder we’ll fall

"If our school does not make healthy dieting a priority issue, then neither will we."

By: Serena Bonneville, SFU Student

After a long day of lectures and tutorials, I’m about to collapse from mental exhaustion, but my evening agenda still includes a 1,500 word essay to revise, a project to edit, and two papers to read. “Ramen it is!” I yell, pulling a Hail Mary for the sake of hunger. I rip open a bag of instant noodles from my Costco-sized collection. I grab the “vegetable” flavoured package in a desperate attempt to make a better choice, and crack open a Redbull in preparation for another all-nighter.

(Fact: a recent study found that more than half of American post-secondary students are in danger of being malnourished as a result of poor eating habits.)

Why would I think to play out this evening any differently? I know very well that every student to my left, and most likely to my right, are making the same sacrifice in order to maintain their GPA.

We can stomach undercooked ramen and canned spaghetti, but never a low GPA. University life is a dog-eat-dog world where we students are willing to sacrifice our own health to meet the demands of our classes. Eating healthy is not on the syllabus.

(Fact: a Health Marketing Quarterly study shows that increased consumption of energy-dense, low-fibre, high-fat foods are associated with “a higher perception of stress” and lower academic performance.)

It’s no secret that we put our health on the backburner in university. In fact, it’s a widely accepted mentality, so standard that we even joke about it. We laugh about our bottomless supply of instant noodles and our inevitable “freshman 15.” Yet, no one stops to acknowledge the serious health implications.

There’s an elephant in the dining hall, and what is my university — SFU —  doing to address it?

A large focus lately has been on “sustainable dining” which rewards restaurants bronze, silver, or gold certified decals based on their level of sustainable service: things like switching to reusable sugar containers and milk bottles.

But where’s the gold medal for eliminating added sugars all together? Or how about a silver for adding an extra serving of greens? If there’s a reward for environmental sustainability, then where’s the reward for keeping people healthy?

(Fact: a recent study asserts that the main reason for poor eating habits among college students is due to “a low level of nutrition knowledge,” based on data from two 1984 studies on the topic. The study also mentions our “reliance on sources that provide inadequate information on nutrition,” referencing data from a 1987 study on how teenagers and young adults think about vitamin supplements.)

SFU’s Healthy Campus Community program encourages healthy campus initiatives that tackle the overall health of students. However, between the three primary focuses seen on their homepage — “Well-being in learning environment,” “Physical Spaces,” and “Recognizing Champions,” none focussed very strongly on the nutritional aspect.

I am not proposing that we move our attention away from tackling issues concerning the social and mental well-being of students, such as student loneliness or depression, but how about throwing some food for thought onto the table?

(Fact: a study done by Australian Healthy Neighborhoods found that adolescents with low-quality junk food diets are 79 per cent more likely to suffer from depression. Another study found that diets high in trans fats found in processed foods raise the risk of depression by 42 per cent.)

Healthier eating helps to not only tackle the physical, long-term health of us students, but the largely discussed mental health issues as well.

SFU’s state-of-the-art dining hall was acknowledged for its positive traits, making it easy of students to relax, work, charge their electronics, and print documents, among other things. The only mention of actual nutrition is in the SFU Dining Hall 101 video: a tour of “Canada’s first, 24/7, all-you-care-to-eat dining hall” which consists of an SFU rep flaunting the convenience and food variety, loading up his plate with a burger, pasta, sushi, and pizza. There wasn’t a vegetable in sight.

(Fact: according to a study in the International Journal of Epidemiology, eating up to 10 portions of fruit and veggies a day will reduce the chance of heart attack, stroke, cancer, and early death.)

The only takeaway I got from this “Healthy Campus Community” initiative was that my midterm, all-nighter, binge-snacking just got a whole lot easier.

The stigma needs to change. “Healthy Campus Community” should mean stronger access to fresh produce and plates half full with veggies. Students should be surrounded with options for a fresh salad, not a fresh slice. The “ramen diet” and “freshman 15” should be a campus-wide fear, not a campus-wide joke. SFU needs to turn up the volume on this conversation and make healthy eating a priority for the lives of students.

(If our school does not make healthy dieting a priority issue, then neither will we.)