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Fat on campus: College life can be ‘perfect storm’ for obesity

April 29th, 2011 Posted in Arts and Life

By Jamee Dyches

LOGAN — Before he got married in 2004, Ricky Harris ate whatever he wanted. His construction job kept him active, and he didn’t think about losing weight; it came naturally. After marrying his wife, Kimberly, and returning to school to become a civil engineer, his life changed. Along with these changes came weight gain.

Harris’ story is not unique. According to the most recent statistics, approximately 25 percent of Utahns are obese , a 112 percent increase since 1989. Summit County was the only county in Utah to meet the 2010 National Obesity Rate Target of 15 percent or less.

Caroline Shugart, wellness coordinator at Utah State University, said, “College is a ‘perfect storm’ for bad lifestyle habits that lead to sickness and disease.” She explains that the busyness of classes, studying and poor sleep habits all occur in an environment where high fat, low fiber foods are readily available.

“Many students can’t do their own cooking in their own kitchen, or they choose heavily processed foods that ultimately sap energy, can cause poor concentration, and lead to obesity,” Shugart said.

A national survey conducted in 2005 showed that 3 of 10 college students are either overweight or obese. The study showed that 9 of 10 students do not eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, the amount recommended by the USDA. The study also looked at the exercise habits of college students and found that 6 in 10 students do not exercise vigorously at least three times a week.

“There are effective strategies college students can use [to combat obesity]: don’t drink your calories, choose fresh local water in reusable containers, choose fruits and veggies at each and every meal and snack,” Shugart said.

As a college student, Harris had to effectively plan healthy meals, as well as find the time and energy to make exercise part of his daily routine. He credits his wife for motivating him to lose weight. “She wants a thinner, better looking husband,” he said.

In January, Harris signed up for USU’s Biggest Loser competition, a spin-off of the popular NBC reality television show. Shannon Jolley, the area coordinator for married and graduate housing at USU, found funding for the competition and made it a traditional program after one of her resident assistants proposed the idea. Jolley said that the apartments her residents live in are very small, and do not have workout facilities on site. “There’s not a whole lot of opportunities for exercise,” she said.

Jolley explained that there were two main goals for USU’s Biggest Loser competition: to try and give good ideas about eating healthier, and to introduce people who exercise to other people who were interested in exercising.

Harris took second place behind Krista Woodstock in the 2011 USU Biggest Loser competition. His strategy for losing weight consisted mainly of changing his eating habits. “I only ate 2,000 calories a day and walked to school instead of taking the shuttle, that was most of my exercise,” Harris said. “I did run during the last week [of the competition], and I noticed that eating healthier made the running experience more positive.”

Harris, who has two children and another due in June, said, “I don’t want to make excuses, but in my opinion it seems like people who are married with kids have a more difficult time staying active.”

Harris, who is 5-foot-10, started the 10-week USU Biggest Loser competition at 235 pounds and ended at 209 pounds, just shy of his goal weight of 200 pounds.

“Before my big diet, I would eat a lot of food and after most meals I would feel engorged and I would have pain in my abs and belly from eating so much,” Harris said, “During the diet, food tasted great when I ate it and I appreciated any food that I would eat. Overall I was and am very happy and proud of myself for being able to have the discipline to stick with it. My wife was very proud and thinks that I look great.”


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