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COLUMN

An Unhealthy Feeding Frenzy Freshman 15 Only the Start of Downhill Trend

Veena Thomas

Where does America’s obsession with food stem from?

Americans are gaining more and more weight each year. Studies conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control reveal that 17.9 percent of the population in 1998 was obese, defined as being more than thirty percent above ideal body weight. This marks a fairly substantial increase over the statistics from 1991, indicating that 12 percent of Americans were obese. Interestingly, the highest rise in obesity levels between 1991 and 1998 was found among the 18-29 year old demographic, which increased from 7.1 percent to 12.1 percent.

Indeed, 18-29 year olds seem unusually preoccupied with food. This college-age demographic begins with the “freshman 15,” and perhaps it’s all downhill from there. Being away from home for the first time, and away from Mom’s advice on healthy eating and carefully monitored dinners, has its toll. Parents no longer keep an eye on junk food consumption or avoid stocking the house with unnecessary goodies. In college, teenagers can do their own grocery shopping, buy any sort of food previously forbidden to them, and devour as much of it as they want.

College students can eat as much as they want, and often do. Combine this with a lack of nutritious eating choices, and the high weight gain among this demographic suddenly loses its mystery.

However, it does not explain the sheer gluttony of many at college. Obviously there is a biological basis for hunger, yet the amount of food eaten by many cannot be rationalized by logic. College students are always ready for more food, regardless of how soon prior they have eaten.

Walk down the Infinite Corridor and witness the proliferation of posters advertising events. In order for an event to be successful, it’s almost a necessity for there to be free food. Groups design their advertisements to highlight the fact that free food will be made available to all; indeed, sometimes it appears to be the most important fact on the poster, printed in the largest font. Study breaks provide much-needed social interaction. However, I’ve never seen one occur without food; people simply wouldn’t go. Students will wait in line for hours with the promise of free food. Ben and Jerry’s free cone day always provides a huge draw. Would these people have decided that day that they wanted an ice cream cone, and gone to Ben and Jerry’s to buy one themselves? Is saving two dollars on a cone really such a huge deal? Why the huge attraction towards free food?

I started contemplating this after attending the recent Class of 2002 Ring Delivery. Following a reception (with food) at Killian Court, sophomores were bused to the harbor. Immediately after boarding the cruise ship, students found themselves in a huge crowd vaguely resembling a line. Apparently more free food lay ahead. There, all hell broke loose. Picture 800 students forming a mob in order to get to two tables of various desserts. The scene resembled a mosh pit. Any sense of order which might have been present initially was soon lost as everyone swarmed around the tables. Pushing and shoving ensued in a battle to reach the food faster. Some people walked off with plates loaded with goodies, as others received none. Those in the back of the crowd couldn’t reach the tables; those who had taken their share of food couldn’t find room to leave the area amidst the mob scene. People began passing trays of food from the tables to the back of the crowd in order to satisfy them, but this soon ceased as the trays broke with so many grabbing for them. It was one of the most greedy, primitive displays I’ve ever seen.

These weren’t starving children in Africa; these were MIT students able to afford both a world-class education and a Brass Rat on top of it. They had just eaten at the reception less than two hours prior to the cruise. Hunger probably wasn’t the issue. Indeed, at the end of the cruise, after the buffet table had picked clean, plates of uneaten food still remained on individual dining tables. Was it only greed that encouraged this mass feeding frenzy?

Does food simply provide a forum for social interaction? If so, it’s a rather unhealthy way of living, and undoubtedly contributes to the steady increase in obesity among our age demographic. Don’t be a glutton, and don’t eat so much just because you can, or because it’s free. Attend events because you want to, not because of the reception following. Remember, you don’t need food to have a good time.