Fighting the fat

Hands on the cart, you push yourself through aisles of assorted goods at your local grocery store. So many choices pass through your head as the pale lighting gleams off the cereal boxes and dated music plays from the store speakers above. Names like “Pepsi” and “Lays” stare at you from under the shelves, attacking you with their tricky slogans and bright colors. If you’re a college student, chances are you have taken this journey to the grocery store. Away from your parents’ home cooked meals, suddenly the power to decide what to eat is in your hands. The question is, are you making healthy decisions?

According to a Sept. 10 article in The New York Times, nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population is overweight. The word obesity is being tossed around doctors’ offices and the occasional headlines of newspapers like a contagious disease.

Obesity in the United States is beginning to be referred to by many as an “epidemic.” It can affect anyone including students in the small town of Castleton.

The Medical Dictionary says, “obesity is the state of being well above ones normal weight.”

“It’s a combination of poor dietary habits and lack of exercise,” said Aaron Jones, a dietitian from Rutland Regional Medical Center, who sees people fighting weight problems from around the area.

What college students choose to consume has an important impact on their bodies. Everyday students step into Huden, Fireside Café, or the local Shaw’s Supermarket and makes decisions based on what they want — and maybe not what they need. The freedom from home seems like a big contributor.

“I don’t have junk food around me like I do here,” said Angelica Mazzola, a freshman at Castleton. “At home my mom cooks me vegetables, but here I don’t get that.”

Julie Benzenberg, a Castleton senior said, “Huden is not exactly mom and pop meals.”

Out of 20 students interviewed, all said being away from home has greatly impacted their eating habits.

“The food here is not good, it’s all greasy,” student Tylor Pechhan said.

Huden recently has added some more “healthy” options for students including some vegetarian dishes, but foods like French fries, pizza, cheeseburgers, cookies and ice cream are still there tempting their pallets.

“There’s what the kids want, and what they should be eating,” said Assistant Director of Huden Rebecca Kerr. “I think it’s all in what the students choose.”

At the Fireside Café there is a constant flow of hungry students waiting at the grill. Fried popcorn chicken, juicy burgers and greasy pizza are ready in minutes for anyone who demands them. The fruits and vegan cookies seem to be the less popular area to satisfy a student’s hungry mouth.

Dianne Spangenberg, a Fireside manager, frequently works the register and is able to observe the many eating habits of the students that pass through.

“Buffalo chicken wraps and energy drinks,” Spangenberg quickly responds when asked about student favorites. “It’s fast food. Everyone needs an immediate (option).”

Being a former Weight Watchers teacher for 19 years, she is well aware of the affects of obesity and poor eating habits and believes students should be more aware too.

“It’s all in the education,” she said, “BMI (body mass index) charts should be plastered all over here.”

As Spangenberg talks about how students really need to know more about what they eat, student Kaitlin Mott responds, “It’s true! I don’t know what to eat, I just guess.”

Trailing behind her another student is purchasing a large bag of cheesy puffs and a Mountain Dew soda. Spangenberg decides to point out the fatty nutritional fact on the back and the student responds, “I don’t care, I haven’t eaten all day.”

When observing the foods students keep in their rooms, there are always the constant college staples like Ramen Noodles, chips, Chewy bars, Soup in a Cup, and fruit bars. In the fridge you can find anything from bottled water to beer and soda. Most people know that beer isn’t the best thing for you, but soda is just as bad. One can of Pepsi soda has 150 calories and 41grams of sugar.

“Juices and soda have high concentrations of sugar and can ruin your teeth,” said Martha Petrisky a, dentil hygienist from Middlebury, Vt. “You should cut out soda entirely.”

Are you obese?

Obesity is determined by measuring a person’s body mass index, or BMI.

“To be considered obese you would have a BMI over 30 percent,” Jones said.

Fatty liver, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and hip and joint problems are few of the health risks that can come from being obese, medical professionals say.

Some Castleton students say they are aware of the risks of eating poorly and try to eat right, but there are plenty of chips and soda eaters too.

“I think I’m a healthy eater. I always try to get fruits and vegetables. I don’t like a lot of sweets,” said student Charles O’Connor.

And while some complain a lot regardless, many students said Huden is offering better and healthier choices these days.

“They’re doing better then ever up at the dinning hall,” said Spangenberg, “I’m really happy this year with what they’re doing.”

For people suffering with obesity or who are just slightly overweight there are several steps you can take towards getting help.

“Increase activity, become involved with a personal trainer or make a plan with a dietitian for improving your eating habits,” said Jones. “Eat a rainbow of colors.

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