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Fast-food lifestyle weighing on campus

Tricia DeGroot | Thursday, September 9, 2004

The movie “Super Size Me” hit the box offices this summer, giving Americans a dramatic new perspective on the consequences of a fast-food diet – and giving the many college students who rely on it thousands of caloric reasons to think twice.

As a living example of what just one month of McDonald’s can do to one’s physical and mental health, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock let the dangers of the fast food world attack his body and unfold onscreen. But at Notre Dame, in a community stacked with overachieving, busy students, many don’t have time to worry about nutrition. Even those who are wary of fast food may not have enough healthy on-the-run options, said Valerie Staples, an eating disorder specialist at the University Counseling Center.

“I have had a number of students express concern about the lack of availability of healthy snacks and that there seems [to be] too much availability of unhealthy choices,” Staples said. “For example, the Krispy Kremes at finals time is not the healthiest choice for late-night studying. Many students also comment about the fact that food is used as a way to draw students to hall meetings and events.”

In addition, 98 percent of those students who live on campus are on the Flex 14 meal plan, meaning they are not relying on the dining halls to provide them with all of their meals, but are instead eating at some of the fast-food chains on campus.

“I think that students prefer fast food to what is offered in the dining hall perhaps because it is such a cultural norm,” sophomore Steve Misner said,

Statistics from last week show that Subway averaged between 800 and 900 on-campus transactions a day, Burger King, 700 transactions and Sbarrro, roughly 600 transactions. In addition, approximately 50 percent of those stores’ revenue comes from flex point usage.

While it is apparent that students on campus are consumers of fast food, several said that does not necessarily mean they aren’t nutrition conscious.

“I think they pay attention,” sophomore Tom Dobleman said. “They eat a lot less fast food now than they used to with all the crazy-low carb stuff, but if we are going to go to a fast-food place, then we are going to get the best for our buck and supersize.”

Misner agreed that Notre Dame students who purchase fast food know what they are getting themselves into.

“I think that the fact that you have so many kids who were athletes causes you to find more nutrition conscious students,” he said.

However, some students feel as though fast food serves as a vice.

“Students know it’s not really good for them, in that it’s not really healthy, but they indulge anyways, especially with the lack of extra time and conveniences to make or eat ‘real’ food,” sophomore Elisa Cano said.

The University has taken steps to acknowledge the nationwide and campus problem of fast food consumption and overeating. Nutritionist Jocelyn Antonelli resides on the second floor of South Dining Hall to help students formulate healthier eating habits and make better food choices. This service is introduced in the freshman Contemporary Topics requirement.

Food Services also offers a nutritional accounting system accessible from their website for students who want to make healthy meal choices while eating at the dining hall. Students can look at the nutritional content of the daily menus and can search for foods by a certain nutrient, such as carbohydrate, count.

There is also a separate nutritionist, Mandy Clark, who specifically assists varsity athletes.

“The athlete will come to me generally or with a specific concern,” Clark said. “We usually talk in terms of performance, and I inform them of how to get around the fast food environment. We try to come up with the healthiest options because fast food is a part of today’s world.”

Clark said she advises athletes and other students to eat at Subway because of the availability of leaner meets, the choice of whole wheat over white bread and the inclusion of vegetables.

Swimmer Grace Galagan said her team meets with Clark once a week.

“As athletes, we are pretty aware of what we eat,” Galagan said. “We think it’s an important part of the whole program.”