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The Freshman 15: Are colleges over-simplifying nutrition?

Lisa B.'s picture
The Freshman 15: Are colleges over-simplifying nutrition?



Discussion Questions:

Would posting calorie counts in Bryn Mawr College cafeterias help students avoid the freshman 15 and future weight gain? Is this focus on calories over-simplifying nutrition? What about converting traditional dining halls into "healthy dining halls"? Would this plan prevent students from learning how to make healthy eating choices off campus?


Healthy food in chain restaurants are often the most expensive menu items. Does full disclosure of calorie counts by the New York State Health Department discourage people from eating cheap high calorie foods?


What are the environmental factors that may cause many first-year college students to gain the freshman 15?


Background Reading and Quiz:

Rethinking the Freshman 15

Now on the Menu, Full Disclosure, and It’s Not Appetizing

How to avoid gaining the Freshman 15

Food Quiz: Fact or Fiction?



nutrition certificate's picture

There may be another

There may be another relationship between groups of people and their ability to maximize the nutritious potential of certain foods because they have evolved under the pressure of their environment yielding very specific foods.

ttruong's picture

Ethnic meal plans

I think that different groups of people have evolved traits that help them optimize their survival in certain environments. It is very possible that there exists a relationship between different groups and the foods that optimizes that group's survival in environments that they spent a long time evolving in.

There may be another relationship between groups of people and their ability to maximize the nutritious potential of certain foods because they have evolved under the pressure of their  environment yielding very specific foods.

In order for us to be truly healthy consumers, we must not only know our own bodies and its unique ability to utilizes differents foods, but also our bodies' relationship to the environment that we find ourselves in, which may be completely different from our ancestor's environment. Our ancestors gave us genes that were equipped for certain environments and perhaps even proclivities towards foods appropriate for surviving in that specific environment.

Paul Grobstein's picture

do we need to "fix" the freshman 15?

What particularly struck me in this conversation was the similarity between presumptions about "eating disorders" and "sleep disorders," that there is "normal" eating and sleeping and any deviation from that is a "problem" needing to be corrected.  Added to this in the case of "eating disorders" is the presumption that what humans eat is a function of society/culture and hence that what needs to be done to assure "healthy" eating is to counter misleading cultural information (advertising) by enhancing education about calories/nutrition.

My guess is that there is a lot of individual variation in eating patterns, as there is in sleeping patterns, and that trying to establish a "norm" here, just as in the case of sleeping, creates more problems than it solves.  My guess, in addition, is that eating patterns reflect lots of things in addition to social/cultural influences.  Humans, like all other animals, were eating successfully long before the existence of advertising or any studies of/information about calories/nutrition, so we must have reasonably adaptive ways of making food choices in lieu of such things.  I'm pretty sure I remember reading studies thirty or forty years ago about unconstrained food choices in experimental animals (and human babies?) implying the existence of "specific appetites," ie internal processes that would select among available foods those that met nutritional needs.  It would be worth looking back at a literature earlier than that easily found on the web to see if indeed that's so. 

My point isn't that cultural factors can't disturb eating behavior, or even make it "unhealthy."  My point is instead that there are ways to fight cultural influences that may be more effective than other cultural influences.  And that deviations from an imagined "norm" need not always be regarded as problems.  Perhaps freshmen have been overly constrained in their food choices prior to coming to college, and so do a little healthy experimentation with various foods in order to find a pattern of eating behavior that fits their own distinctive physiology?


RachelBrady's picture

The very idea of individual

The very idea of individual variation implies some divergence of functional characteristics from the 'norm' or 'average'. This is not to say that they are irrelevant or that each variation should be measured against an average, but each variant contains vital similarities to all other variants in a way that allows us to identify them as being the same act, organism, ect. If this weren't true we would need new terminology and analysis on every variation of eating patterns. The concept that every variant shares these 'vital' similarities that allows them to be classified under general terminology, allows of a broad general understanding for everything that is classified as an eating pattern, and from here one can adjust this understanding to the specific variant.

jrlewis's picture

logistical issues

If we accept all sorts of biological variation: sleep patterns, weigth, nutritional requirements, how do we construct a society that provides for everyone?  How do we construct a dining hall in Bryn Mawr that satisfies the diverse desires/needs of the student body? 

RachelBrady's picture


Could you imagine the tedium of going through each variant as if it were a new case? That is what we would have to do without a general understanding of 'idea' or 'average' condition.

Paul Grobstein's picture

on averages and ideaLs in science

Was an "l" inadvertently omitted, so "idea" in the above should read "ideal"?  If so, this nicely encapsulates the problem as I see it.  "Average" is a sometimes useful concept in helping to organize observations.  The difficulty is the tendency to equate "average" with "ideal" or "norm" and then to treat everything else as a deviation or non-ideal or something to be corrected.  I got into this problem very dramatically shortly after coming to Bryn Mawr.  I was lecturing in the intro bio course about the human urogenital system, started with the male pattern as simpler to describe, said the female system was like the male with a few "quirks," ie deviations from the norm.  Several students were not happy with me, provided me with a useful lesson about the problems of "norms" and "ideals."  And, for that matter, about "averages."  Its not clear that a "general understanding of [the] average condition" is relevant/useful in this case.

Lisa B.'s picture

"Super Size Me"


Additional background (thanks Julianne!):
Two overweight girls sued McDonald's, in 2003, for McDonald’s deceptive practices in making and selling their products that caused them to become obese. Soon after the trial Morgan Spurlock began filming his 2004 documentary “Super Size Me.” Do you think food corporations, or the individual, are responsible for the obesity epidemic in the US?