Dr. Joan Bottorff, Professor of Nursing at UBCO, is one of several worldwide researchers who published a multi-site study on university students’ eating habits. The study included around 12,000 medical students from 31 Chinese universities, with the goal of determining the relationship between eating habits, obesity, and other disorders (
The point, says Dr. Bottorff, is that many poor eating habits begin at university and can continue for decades.
“We know many students consume high-calorie meals along with sugary foods and drinks, and there is lots of evidence to show those kinds of eating behaviors can lead to obesity,” says Dr. Bottorff. “These are not the only habits that lead to obesity, but they are important and can’t be ruled out.”
Unhealthy Eating Habits as Student Can Cause More than Just Obesity
Dr. Shihui Peng of China’s Jinan University’s School of Medicine led the study published in Preventive Medicine Reports. While there is well-established research linking poor eating habits to many chronic diseases, this study sought to demonstrate a link between poor eating habits and infectious disorders such as colds and diarrhea.
Dr. Bottorff observes that the study’s design made it impossible to demonstrate cause and effect, but the link between poor eating habits, obesity, and respiratory disorders was well supported.
“There has been biomedical research that also supports this link between obesity and infectious diseases, and most recently, this has been related to COVID-19,” she adds. “We know from some of the recent publications related to COVID-19, obese people are more likely to have severe conditions and outcomes. Reasons offered for this increased vulnerability include impaired breathing from the pressure of extra weight and poorer inflammatory and immune responses.”
Overeating Can Cause Depression and Anxiety and Vice Versa
A typical student diet of high-sugar or high-calorie items can contribute to obesity in the long run. According to Dr. Bottorff, there is evidence that stress and anxiety can cause overeating, but overeating can also contribute to anxiety and depression.
“The bottom line here is that we shouldn’t be ignoring this risk pattern among young people at university. It is well documented that a significant portion of students have unhealthy diets,” she adds. “The types of foods they are eating are linked to obesity. And this can lead to other health problems that are not just about chronic disease but also infectious diseases.”
Schools Should Provide Healthy Options for Students
While Dr. Bottorff believes that students should be taught about healthy eating at university, he also believes that it is the obligation of the school to provide nutritious, inexpensive meal options for all students.
“We need to think about the food environment that we provide students. We need to ensure that in our cafeterias and vending machines, there are healthy food options so that they can eat on the go but also make healthy food choices.”
It’s not an issue that goes overlooked. UBC Student Wellness and Food Services collaborate to address food security and literacy, and they realize that a lack of cheap food options, as well as the stress of university life, can have a negative impact on student’s food choices.
Students who are food insecure have access to a low-barrier food bank and a meal share program. Meanwhile, the culinary team at UBCO Food Services promotes locally, organically, and sustainably produced ingredients and collaborates with a qualified nutritionist to ensure that all diners have access to a diverse range of food options.
Dr. Bottorff agrees that food selections in cafeterias have improved, and observes that drinks in many vending machines have been repositioned such that healthy things are at eye level while sugary options are lower down.
“I know many post-secondary schools are trying to figure out how we can do better and are trying to address these problems,” she adds. “It’s great because four or five years ago, we weren’t. So, I think we’re on the right road, but I think we’re a long way from finished.”
- Does obesity related eating behaviors only affect chronic diseases? A nationwide study of university students in China – (https:pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36798793/)