Do on-campus food choices contribute to obesity?

UCD students investigate whether the university environment is conducive to healthy eating

Every college has a different environment. The location and surroundings play a major role within that environment and UCD, which is located just outside Dublin City Centre, is no different.

At a nutritional level choice is limited when compared with Trinity College which is located in the City Centre and has everything at its doorstep.

Sporting facilities are a major benefit to the UCD campus lifestyle however and playing fields and clubs on campus help when it comes to getting students involved in activities.

Food choice

When thinking about grabbing a meal or food while on UCD campus, students instantly presume that they have an almost unlimited range of food and drink. However, with obesity levels on the rise in Ireland, it should be asked whether UCD is contributing to lowering the obesity levels of its students, or if it is part of the problem of student obesity?

Through an analysis of the restaurants and various eateries on campus an emerging pattern can be seen where unhealthy food is cheaper than healthy food.

What seems outrageous is that a € 4.50 student meal deal in the Students Union shop next to the main library can add up to 900 calories. This can consist of a can of 7up, a packet of crisps and a chicken and stuffing sandwich. Another example is a turkey salad box of € 4.75 along with a packet of sushi which can cost up to € 8.

In contrast to this the relatively healthy but processed wrap or pasta bowl is more expensive at € 5.50.

The fact that it is more expensive to eat fewer calories contributes to the obesogenic environment on campus.

Many students work part-time, if at all, and are often forced to eat on a budget, making € 5.50 and the cost of a drink too expensive for many students.

Fourth year general nursing student Rebecca says: “all food is generally overpriced anyway but healthy options even more so, it’s so much easier to pick up an unhealthy meal deal than to walk to the other side of campus to get an expensive salad”.

The UCD restaurant includes options such as Subway and Chopped. While the food at Chopped may indeed be more nutritious than that of Subway, it is also significantly more expensive. They advertise a salad bowl for € 7, a wrap for € 6.50 or a sandwich for € 6 which can be between 180 calories to 500 calories.

However, a Subway meatball foot-long sandwich can cost € 3.50 but can add up to 900 calories. Other sandwiches on campus such as a chicken fillet roll in Centra for € 2.50 can add up to over 1000 calories and seems far more appealing to many students.

The last option available to students who can’t afford the already unhealthy sandwich is something from the pastry section, most likely either a croissant for €2.10, or a scone and butter for €1.70.

Second year science student Eva believes that “the unhealthy options outweigh the healthy options the healthy options are more expensive so students on a budget are more likely to go for the unhealthy option”. These investigations shows the little chance students on a budget have to maintain a healthy balanced diet while studying at UCD.

Another aspect of UCD campus providing food for their students is the ‘Snack Sense’ vending machines. These are vending machines filled with snacks that are supposed to limit your intake to 150 calories. While this is a good idea and a step in the right direction, the options in the machine do not appear very appetising and cost around € 1.50 on average which is still quite pricey.

In relation to these vending machines third year arts student Graham says that when they are low in sugar free options and other snacks are added in that are not sugar free as a replacement.

Also, in relation to the vending machines third-year business and law student Meabh says that “the vending machines say ‘low calorie food’ but are filled with chocolate and crisps”.

There are also water fountains found all over UCD campus which try to encourage students to bring in a reusable water bottle.

Because of the sports facilities provided on campus and the healthier options available second year agricultural science student Alison believes that UCD does not create an unhealthy eating environment. She says that “if people are unhappy with the options they could always bring in their own lunch”.

It is clear from this that so far that an obesogenic environment exists, but that is not to say that there has been no attempt at creating a healthier eating environment for the students.

Although the ‘Snack Sense’ vending machines and water fountains are small improvements, UCD still has a long way to go for it not to be considered an obesogenic environment.

Healthy UCD Strategy

When asked whether or not UCD encourages an obesogenic environment, UCD Director of Health Promotion Brian Mullins referred to the Healthy UCD Strategy 2016-2021 which works in partnership with the government-led initiative, Healthy Ireland.

‘In order to take a leadership position and deliver on our strategic objectives, the University has endorsed the Healthy Ireland initiative and developed this strategy for a Health Promoting University at UCD,” he said.

Mr Mullins said the university “needs to do more” to engage the whole community and encourage students to develop healthy lifestyles .

“As a university we have already taken decisions to promote health. The ban on the sale of tobacco and cigarette products on campus implemented in September 2014 and the ultimate commitment to have a smoke-free campus where all community members can go about their business in an environment unencumbered by smoke or vapour by 2017; all decisions not without impact for some but made in the spirit of the greater good.

“Through this strategy we are now making similar decisions to address other aspects of a healthy university and collectively map the way ahead for current and future members of the UCD community,” he added.

This article was written by UCD students Leah Hynes, Amanda Mc Donald, Emily Byrne, Lucianne Killeen, Rachel Riordan and Jack Beaddie