The purpose of this document is NOT to prove how WePlate’s products will help college students eat and live healthier; rather, it is to assert why our products are needed in the first place.
(We work on the how non-stop, constantly improving our products to address why better.)
The WePlate team received 7 weeks of cafeteria nutrient data from the dining team of a well-renowned liberal arts college in the American Northeast. We have analyzed this data and indicated any conclusions we have drawn from it below.
The transition from high school to college dining is difficult. Most students go from a routine of home-cooked meals and prepared lunches to having to decide what to eat at every meal. No one is there to make sure you eat your vegetables.
As a result, students across the United States develop drastically unhealthy eating habits once they enter college. For many, this phenomenon is known as the “Freshman 15”. In 2014, a study in the Journal of Preventative Medicine found that a shocking 95% of college students don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. At NYU, 1 in 4 students are overweight, as obesity in American young adults has doubled in 3 decades. A study from Johns Hopkins University concluded 56% of Americans aged 18-25 are overweight or obese.
We all intuitively know that it’s “bad” to be unhealthy, but let’s explore some specific consequences of maintaining a lacklustre diet.
The most obvious symptom of not paying attention to what you eat is nutrient surpluses and deficits. In our trials, we found consistent nutrient surpluses and deficits in meals generated by our algorithm which optimizes portion sizes and food item combinations. In these meals, we found nutrient surpluses these % of times - fat 97%, sugar 90%, sodium 72%, protein 66%, cholesterol 38%, and calories 23%. Here are the % of meals with nutrient deficits - vitamin A 99%, vitamin D 96%, carbohydrates 80%, calcium 48%, and fibre 34%.
Apart from the obvious physical symptoms of nutrient imbalances that include gaining/losing weight, weakened immune systems, heart diseases, diabetes, and other chronic diseases, in recent years, a growing amount academic research has explored the causal relationship between nutrition and mental health. For example, meta-studies have found inextricable benefits within the nutrients of Mediterranean diets on mental health.
More alarmingly, however, is the relationship between skipping breakfast and mental health. For many students, 8 am lectures and late-night studying often result in no time to eat breakfast. A study of Chinese college students found that the odds of having depression for students who skip breakfast are 278% higher than those of students who consistently eat breakfast. Another study of 21,972 university students across three continents found that the 48% of students who skipped breakfast displayed “10 of 15 health risk behaviours, all of nine poor mental health indicators and poor academic performance.”
Common wisdom tells us that a strong breakfast fuels students brains for morning lectures; science agrees. Frequent breakfast consumption is the most effective action students can take to improve their grades, demonstrated by a study of Nursing students where 91.7% of students who skipped breakfast had “C” grades, while 66.7% of students who didn’t skip breakfast had “A” grades. Mediation studies affirm that consistently skipping breakfast will “inevitably lead to a decline in their academic achievement”.
Despite the proven consequences of maintaining unhealthy diets, most students are simply too busy studying, networking, and developing their careers to think about the nutritional value of the foods they put on their plates. However, since it is proven that students maintain the eating habits they develop in university, learning how to eat should undoubtedly be part of the college educational experience. (There’s financial benefits to the economy too!)
<aside> 💡 It is both the responsibility and in the best interest of university dining teams to ensure students eat healthily on campus.