[Fresh] Weight fluctuation, fatigue,

John Immerwahr (john.immerwahr@villanova.edu)
Wed, 27 Sep 2000 15:45:34 -0400

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Interview with Dr. Marcia Costello, Assistant Professor of Nursing

Fresh@News. You are a registered dietitian and health educator, and
you teach our course on "Human Values and Healthy Lifestyles." Let's
talk about lifestyle decisions you see among first year students.

Dr. Marcia Costello. Generally our students at Villanova are healthy
young people who are going through the normal adjustment issues
associated with going to college. Having said that, there are a number
of issues that come up. The ones that are most striking are weight
fluctuation, fatigue, and also drug and alcohol abuse.

Fresh@News. Let's start with weight. We always hear the students
talking about the "freshman 15." What is that all about?

M.C. Traditionally the term means that students gain 15 pounds in their
first year of college life. In my own informal surveys of our college
students, however, I find that as many students gain weight as lose
weight at college, so I think the real concern is what I would call
weight fluctuation.

F@N. OK, let's talk about both categories. Start with students who
gain weight. What happens?

M.C. There are a number of factors at work here. One of the biggest
things I see is a change in exercise habits. A lot of students who are
very active in sports in high school decide that sports are not for them
in college, so all of a sudden they are living much more sedentary
lives. At the same time, they are an a whole new environment as far as
eating is concerned, which can be characterized by unlimited portions of
food in the dining halls and a lot of late night snacking around the
residence halls.

F@N. So what do you recommend for these students?

M.C. One of the best things is to start an exercise program. We have
some great exercise facilities on campus. The most useful thing is for
the students to start a program with some of their peers, so they get
some group support. And also they need to make more healthy choices
about eating. Parents can help here too. When they send those care
packages from home, they might include things like microwave popcorn
(without the butter); pretzels (instead of chips) flavored rice cakes,
and low fat cookies such as animal crackers, gingersnaps and graham

F@N What about dieting?

M.C. Dieting is a big problem on college campuses, just as in society.
We always have many students, especially women, experimenting with the
latest fad diet. These days the craze is mostly for the low
carbohydrate/high protein diets. As a nutritionist, I don't think much
of these diets, and I also see that students who try them often have
other problems as a result, such as decreased energy. I always
emphasize exercise and healthy eating, rather than fad diets, which may
promote quick weight loss but also, lead to quick weight regain.

F@N. How about those who are losing weight? What is going on there?

M.C. Lots of time the problem here is stress and lack of time
management. The biggest problem is that students think they are too
busy to eat in the dining halls, and they miss meals, especially
breakfast. Many times that extra 20 minutes of sleep looks better to
them than breakfast, so they skip breakfast and go straight to class. We
also always have a few students who, for whatever reason, drastically
restrict their diet and also combine this with a rigorous exercise
program. At this point, we are leaving the area of lifestyle choices
and talking about real risks to health.

F@N. We'll cover some of those issues with eating disorders in later
interviews, but what do you recommend for the students who are losing

M.C. The first thing is some time management, so those students make
the time to eat the meals. Some students like to complain about the
dining services, but for the most part the dining services do an
excellent job. The food is fresh, well-prepared, attractively served,
and there is plenty of variety and they also offer convenience stores
now to pick up food items for their rooms. They have just hired a new
dietitian who will be able to play a major role in promoting the
availability of nutritious meals to the students.

If students are trying to gain or maintain weight, it is often important
for them to eat several times a day. Students who are trying to gain
weight need to be proactive, making sure that they have snacks such as a
granola bar, dried fruit, crackers or nuts that they can toss in the
knapsack and eat between classes. They should also keep nutritious
snacks in their refrigerators such as yogurt, low fat cheeses and
spreads, and fresh fruit. In the old days it was hard for students to
use their meal plans to get snacks between meals. Fortunately, Dining
Services now offers extremely flexible services so that students can get
nutritious food and snacks at virtually any time of the day and from a
variety of locations on campus.

F@N. You also mentioned fatigue. What is going on there?

M.C. Lack of sleep is a big problem for our students and, again, time
management is often a big issue. They stay up late and then roll out of
bed in the morning without getting enough sleep. Fatigue and problems
with diet can also suppress the immunity system, which is one reason why
viruses can run through a residence hall like the black plague going
through medieval Europe. Here again, the answer is common sense,
realistic scheduling, and making the right choices.

F@N. What about alcohol and drug abuse?

M.C. Those are widespread problems with students in this age group, and
with increased alcohol consumption comes increased risk of many other
problems. This is an area where parents can really help. Please do
not assume that drinking is a normal part of college life. Parents
should set a positive example and discuss this issue and the associated
problems explicitly.

F@N. What kind of resources do we have for students?

M.C. There is really a lot out there for our students. The Health
Center is available for students with a variety of medical issues, the
University Counseling Center offers counseling for students with help
with concerns/issues related to their personal or academic life, and we
also have a Center for Drug and Alcohol Education for students with
concerns/ problems related to drugs and alcohol. In addition to these
resources the residence halls offer wellness programs throughout the
academic year. Many of these sources can be found on the Student Life
home page, at www.studentlife.villanova.edu.

F@N What can parents do to help?

M.C. Lifestyle choices are a tricky issue for this age group.
Obviously parents can no longer exercise the kind of control they did
when their students are in high school. At the same time, parents
shouldn't assume that everything is under control now that the student
is away at school. There are many areas that parents can still cue into
such as: is the student gaining or losing weight, do they have poor or
inconsistent grades, are they making poor choices about alcohol, or does
he or she seem unusually fatigued or frequently ill. Parents should
talk about these issues with their children, and also be prepared to
direct the children to the resources available at the university. Lots
of times students think that they can solve their own problems and don't
need any help. In fact, these are difficult issues and we have a lot of
support for them if they are only willing to reach out for it.

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