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College Students Struggle with Obesity

First in a series of two

Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Updated: Friday, December 26, 2008 15:12

For college students, life can sometimes seem like one major hurdle after another. Facing homework from several classes and sometimes outside employment or internship responsibilities, eating a good lunch, or hitting the gym often falls low on the totem poll of priorities. But this behavior has caused a national epidemic of obesity among college-aged students over the last decade.

According to Center for Disease Control (CDC), "In 2000, a total of 38.8 million American adults met the classification of obesity, defined as having a body mass index, BMI, of 30 or more. This total figure represents an estimated 19.6 million men, and 19.2 million women."

And that includes college-aged students.

The CDC states, "In 2000, 15.2 million college students are obese, up almost 8% from 1991, in which obesity was only evident in 8% of college students."

In addition, the CDC reports that the percentage of obesity increased "from 14.4% in 1991 to 20.7% in the year 2000 in the state of Pennsylvania."

Benjamin Ptashinsky, Wilkes Freshman Musical Theater major, struggled with obesity and is on the road to living a healthy lifestyle.

Featured just last week in a profile in The Beacon, Ptashinsky notes, "I see obesity and overweightness here at Wilkes. And I'm sure that it's everywhere."

The CDC defines obesity "as an excessively high amount of body fat or adipose tissue in relation to lean body mass. Body Mass Index (BMI) is a common measure expressing the relationship of weight-to-height. BMI is a mathematical formula in which a person's body weight in kilograms is divided by the square of his or her height in meters (wt/(ht)2). Individuals with a BMI of 30 or more are considered obese."

Diane O'Brien, CRNP, Wilkes University Director of Health Services, said that the way we live our lives these days plays an instrumental role in the increase of obesity on campuses.

"I think it's the way we live now," said O'Brien. "Everything is hustle bustle, eating on the run, eating large portions or super-sizing portions, eating fried fats, and I don't think students exercise consistently."

Mary Loise Angelella, RD., also feels that obesity is a result to the way people live.

"I think our portion sizes are too big," said Angelella. "We rush a lot, and therefore, we pick up a quick meal that may not be the most healthy, and we are less active."

Obesity is accompanied by a number of health risks. O'Brien said that obese college students are as much at risk to these dangerous health problems as older obese adults are.

"There's really no boundaries," said O'Brien. "If you're morbidly obese, or you're obese for a long period of time, you could pre-dispose yourself to Type II diabetes. We're seeing younger and younger people have higher sugars, so diabetes is occurring in this college-aged group more frequently. Also, there are cardiac problems. If your lipids, or fats are high, you'll have a lot of vascular problems, like poor circulation in your legs and arms."

In addition, the CDC states that "high blood pressure, high cholesterol, gallstones, stroke, and some types of cancer, such as endometrial, breast, prostate, and colon" are other health hazards that accompany obesity.

If you fall into the category of being obese, you have options.

Angelella said that changing your lifestyle is the key to managing a healthy weight. "You want to make some lifestyle changes by eating healthier and increasing your physical activity."

Ptashinsky agrees.

"One morning, I vowed to start treating my body respectfully. I had to change my attitude and my lifestyle," said Ptashinsky.

Angelella also said that the changes in one's lifestyle depend on several factors.

"There's people that could follow the food guide pyramid and increase physical activity, and they would lose weight," said Angelella. "But it really depends on their medical conditions, their level of activity, their gender, height, and weight to determine calorie needs."

Angelella advises people struggling with obesity or overweightness to follow these steps.

"Aim at fitness, follow the food guide pyramid, and choose a diet low in salt, saturated fat, and cholesterol," said Angelella.

Kelly Peters, certified American Counsel on Exercise, ACE, and certified International Weightlifting Association, IWA, instructor and owner of Kelly's Fitness Center, 67 South Main St., Pittston, said that walking is the best exercise for people that are obese.

"Walking is a great exercise for obese people," said Peters. "Then, when they gradually start to lose weight, they can start weight training about twice a week. But eating is about 75% of the entire regimen to losing weight. If they exercise and cut down on their calories, they may start seeing results in about one month to six weeks."

Although changing the lifestyle is key, O'Brien believes that this is difficult for the traditional college student.

"I think it's a tough situation for college kids," said O'Brien. "They eat on the go, have irregular schedules, and they party. It's a tough balance."

More importantly, O'Brien emphasizes that changing the lifestyle excludes anything that suggests a "quick fix".

"Everybody wants a quick fix," said O'Brien. "They want to lose ten pounds in a week. A lot of diet pills have ephedrine, which increases your heart rate, and increases your blood pressure. Weight loss is a struggle. Anything that is a 'quick fix' is a red flag."

The CDC also reports "psychological disorders (such as depression), eating disorders, distorted body image, and low self esteem" are evidence of the far-reaching effects that obesity patients suffer from.

In next week's issue: Part two of this series focuses on the influence of body image portrayal in the media, and its effects.

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