As stu­dents return to campus, the less-​​structured living envi­ron­ment can present chal­lenges to main­taining healthy eating habits, We asked Sab­rina Noel Feldeisen, a reg­is­tered dieti­cian and research assis­tant pro­fessor in the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences, to offer tips for stu­dents to make healthy food choices as the aca­d­emic year begins.

Why does it become harder for teenagers to stay on track nutri­tion­ally when they enter college?

One of the main fac­tors that influ­ences eating behav­iors of col­lege stu­dents is that they are now living on their own and are able to make their own food choices. Most stu­dents are faced with eating at campus dining halls, which offer a large variety of foods and bev­er­ages and are often all you-​​can-​​eat. This can lead to increased con­sump­tion and por­tion sizes of foods and bev­er­ages in excess of energy require­ments. In addi­tion to dining halls, food courts and fast-​​food restau­rants on and off campus offer foods that are highly processed and high in sodium, sat­u­rated fat and sugar. Also, changes in daily sched­ules and rou­tines due to classes, studying and social­izing can influ­ence when, or even if, stu­dents eat. This lack of sched­uled eating, along with late night studying, can also lead to increased snacking. Other fac­tors, such as stress, can also lead to overeating, espe­cially of foods that are sweet, salty or high in sat­u­rated fats.

What are the health risks asso­ci­ated with changes in diet and sudden weight gain?

One of the main con­cerns with weight gain is that this trend will con­tinue through adult­hood, leading to over­weight and obe­sity. Indi­vid­uals who are over­weight or obese, or are car­rying excess body fat, are more likely to have high blood pres­sure, ele­vated cho­les­terol and other health con­di­tions such as Type 2 Dia­betes, heart dis­ease, stroke and even some forms of cancer.

What advice can you offer freshmen and other stu­dents to help make better food choices?

Here are a few tips:

•    Choose fruits, veg­eta­bles, whole grain foods and low-​​fat dairy prod­ucts
•    Pay atten­tion to por­tion size and the number of times you go back for sec­onds
•    Plan ahead, so that you have time for reg­ular meals or have a healthy snack on hand
•    Avoid fast foods that are highly processed, and high in solid fats and sugar
•    Avoid sugary bev­er­ages such as soda; instead choose water or flavor-​​infused water
•    Choose a healthy snack, such as fruit, low-​​fat yogurt or nuts
•    Try to incor­po­rate phys­ical activity into your daily routines