by Jennifer Wider, MD
Society for Women's Health Research
With the number of Americans overweight and obese at an all-time high, the diet choices of young people are of concern, especially as they prepare to leave home for the first time in the fall and fend for themselves at college.
College is a time of tremendous change in lifestyles and routines, so it can be difficult for students to establish or maintain healthy eating habits. In some cases, tight time schedules, limited budgets, and other influences can lead to weight problems. And patterns of gradual weight gain over the course of college can trigger health problems well beyond the college years.
Women should pay close attention to this issue because obesity affects women, especially young women, more often than men. Overweight women are also more likely to suffer other health problems or experience a lower quality of life than their male counterparts.
Not only is there a greater social stigma associated with being overweight for women, there are unique health concerns for obese women. Obese women are at greater risk of early menses and late menopause. These are two known risk factors for breast cancer.
Obesity in women has also been linked to fertility problems such as polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition in which cysts in the ovary interfere with normal ovulation and menstruation, and complicated pregnancies.
Women and men both face increased risks of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease increases with added body weight.
Since obesity is a controllable risk factor for disease, it is important to initiate healthy eating habits when children are young, so that they can continue making good food choices when they are off on their own.
The college cafeteria isn't usually a bastion of healthy food options. But there are creative ways to stay healthy amidst the 2 a.m. pizza run and late-night study breaks.
Here are a couple of helpful hints:
• Create time for meals. One of the most common obstacles to eating well in college is the lack of time. Many students skip meals in favor of high-calorie, low-nutrition snacks. Avoid this trend by setting aside time to eat three meals a day. If you must eat on the go, buy a smoothie or protein bar, something that has nutritional value and will fill you up.
• Exercise portion control. Another major obstacle to eating well is buffet-style dining. Students often do not realize that they've consumed more than one dinner after returning to the buffet.