Student Eating Survey Measures Gut Feelings

Today, nearly 34 percent of American adults are obese, more than double the figure 30 years ago. Obesity has become so prevalent that the Centers for Disease Control now define American society as obesogenic — characterized by environments that promote increased food intake, unhealthy foods and physical inactivity.

These sobering facts provided context for professor Peter Conrad’s Health, Science, Society and Policy (HSSP) capstone course on the obesity epidemic last semester. For their capstone project, seniors Ruby Gardner ’11 and Michal Pearl ’11 investigated student attitudes toward eating at Brandeis. The HSSP majors surveyed 44 undergrads, male and female, from all classes.

Here are key findings of surveyed students: 

  • Most believe Brandeis has a welcoming atmosphere that promotes mealtime as an opportunity to socialize.
  • Staying up late at night negatively affects eating habits; surveyed students said they tend to eat chips, cookies or other junk food at such times. Stress also contributes to overeating.
  • Students are concerned about the limited variety of healthy eating options and believe prices are excessively high for healthy foods like fruit and vegetables in the P.O.D. convenience store. Conversely, unhealthy items like cookies and candy can be added to almost any meal for next to nothing.
  • Students said that the “all you can eat” environment at Sherman dining hall promotes going back for seconds at almost every meal.
  • Students said that the “all you can eat” environment at Sherman dining hall promotes going back for seconds at almost every meal.
  • Students reported that they were greatly influenced by their friends’ eating habits, often selecting the same food at mealtimes even if it was unhealthy.
  • Only four students surveyed, all female, had ever visited the on-campus nutritionist for nutritional advice.
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