Students at BU shed freshman 15 myth

Boston University students may be escaping the reality of the freshman 15 because of healthy eating and exercise habits, on-campus nutrition experts said.

Sarah Butler, a dietician in the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Nutrition and Fitness Center, challenged the prevailing notion that most college students overeat and fill up on fatty, high-calorie foods. She said she sees the opposite at BU: students who are obsessed with healthy eating.

“Some people are restricting more than they should,” Butler said. “Students are always shocked at how much they need. They get messages about portion control and restrictions that are meant for people in middle age.”

Butler said she also sees students taking advantage of the Sargent Choice options offered in dining halls. The Sargent Choice program was designed to adhere to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with the idea that students can get all the nutrients they need for a complete and balanced diet by eating Sargent Choice options at every meal.

“Sargent Choice meals are very popular,” Butler said. “Students are choosing them because they look and taste good. [Sargent Choice options] don’t just attract people who are trying to be healthy.”

Clinical assistant professor of nutrition Joan Salge-Blake said the nature of BU’s large, urban campus also contributes to students’ health and well-being.

“We have the ability to have an active lifestyle here at BU,” Salge-Blake said. “One needs to walk to get from one place to another. That’s the beauty of having a sprawled-out campus in a city; physical activity is factored into the environment of the campus.”

Between healthy dining hall options and regular physical activity, Salge-Blake said she does not think college is necessarily an unhealthy time for most BU students, nor does she place stock in the freshman 15 myth — that states students will gain 15 pounds over the course of their freshman year due to lifestyle habits.

“The freshman 15 has very little research to back it up,” she said. “On average freshmen don’t gain 15 pounds. They gain a few pounds at most, and not everyone does.”

For all the physical activity and healthy eating among BU students, Salge-Blake said students still engage in some unhealthy behaviors, particularly drinking alcohol and skipping meals.

When students skip breakfast, they might make up the missed calories later in the day, but they are unlikely get the necessary nutrients that are abundant in breakfast foods.

“Many young adults are falling short on vitamin D and calcium because of skipping breakfast,” Salge-Blake said.

Drinking is also a problem behavior from a nutritional standpoint because chronic drinking leads to displacement of other nutrients or weight gain.

“When alcohol is over-consumed it is quite unhealthy,” Salge-Blake said. “If you chronically take in excess calories [from alcohol] you will gain weight. If you’re drinking chronically and not gaining weight, you’re displacing other nutrients that you need.”

BU students may be shedding pounds and packing on muscle, if Fitness and Recreation Center usage is any indication.

“Average daily attendance is about 5,000,” BU spokesman Colin Riley said. “FitRec opened in April 2005, and usage has increased steadily.”

Some students said they agree they are healthier than college student stereotypes would suggest.

“I think people exercise a lot more when they come to college,” SAR junior Deborah Greenstein said. “I usually ate salads and pasta in the dining hall. I think Sargent Choice is popular — especially the pizza.”

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