Monday, October 12, 2009

Thoughts on the Freshman 15, Courtesy of Newsweek...

This fall, Newsweek Magazine wrote an article entitled "Rethinking The Freshman Fifteen." I was immediately drawn to this article for obvious reasons, as I work with eating disorders, but I also remember the hysteria surrounding the ominous freshman fifteen that I was bombarded with when going off to college. I remember hearing about these alleged 15 pounds that my fellow freshman and I needed to watch out for- relatives, people in my dorm, my RA, friends, professors, strangers who found out I was a freshman, etc... it all felt just a little bit much. What I liked about this article is that it highlights an at risk group- college freshman, and really, college students in general- but it also highlights a cultural notion- the freshman fifteen, which can trigger disordered eating in many college students who begin to fixate on not wanting to gain these 15 pounds.

While we know that each person responds differently to environmental stimuli, we also know that the trend in college dining halls to display caloric and nutritional information for all food being served has been difficult for some people. For this reason, Harvard University pulled the caloric and nutritional information from their dining halls last year, instead opting to feature it online for those who were interested. For some who may be recovering or trying to recover from an eating disorder, this information is triggering and may prove to be detrimental. For others who struggle with disordered eating, or for those who have no history of eating issues, the presence of such information can bring about an unhealthy awareness. The argument that a school like Yale makes (Yale University refuses to remove this information in their dining halls) is that obesity in our country is rising, and this is a helpful way to encourage healthy eating and weight management.

What stands out in my mind (click HERE to read this article) is not so much the debate over whether or not to display caloric and nutritional information about the food being served in dining halls, but how we help to engage college students in healthy ways of living. The number of EDNOS diagnoses (Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified- a diagnostic term which includes disordered eating behaviors that do not meet the exact criteria for anorexia and/or bulimia) has doubled, and according to a statistic in this article from the American College Health Association, 38 percent of college students are using eating disordered behaviors to manage weight. The need for education, therapy and healthy approaches to our bodies and food is something that we ALL need, but this article just reminds me that college students are at risk. Prevention efforts aimed at college students, as well as treatment, is essential.

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