All the burritos, tater tots, doughnuts, chips, fries, bacon, cream cheese croissants, Big Texas Cinnamon Rolls and Neon Worms served at PCC’s food services are condemning the apparently satisfied but clearly oblivious customers to future diagnoses of obesity, diabetes, stroke, cancer or osteoarthritis.
The Piazza cafeteria and Lancer’s Pass snack bar are operated for PCC by the same company and offer a wide variety of meals, beverages and snacks to students, staff and faculty at semi-reasonable prices. Healthy options are available, but they are often hard to find and require customers to assiduously avoid a virtual avalanche of packaged and prepared unhealthy options.
Young adult college students are already on shaky ground when it comes to healthy eating. According to a review article in Advances in Nutrition, college students make poor dietary choices, including exceeding recommendations for total fat and saturated fat, failing to meet whole-grain and fiber recommendations, exceeding sodium (salt) recommendations, skipping meals, and avoiding fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy.
PCC’s food service caters to students’ worst tendencies by providing hundreds of unhealthy options when they are hungry or famished and stressed about classes. College students’ snack-food choices become less healthy with each passing week of the semester and especially during finals, according to a study in the Journal of Public Health Nutrition.
Unhealthy food choices contribute to weight gain. Among young adults, obesity is a growing problem. It has quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Obese adolescents are more likely to be obese as adults. This increases their risk for such adult health problems as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis, according to the CDC.
More than one-half of young adults ages 18-24 have at least one risk factor for coronary heart disease, according to the Advances in Nutrition review. Eighty percent of heart disease, however, is preventable through diet and lifestyle, according to the authors.
Yes, there are healthy food options at PCC. At Lancer’s Pass, a highly visible case displays an abundance of whole apples, cut up mixed fruit or orange slices in clear plastic cups, seaweed salad, string cheese, and a “protein pack” for $3.99 consisting of two hard-boiled eggs, cheese cubes, fruit and a few crackers. Prepared sushi (8 sizeable pieces with plenty of hard-to-find avocado) provides a healthy meal for only $5.75. At The Piazza, a fresh fruit cup is only $3.75; soymilk is $1.99. However, foods labeled Caesar Salad and chicken pesto pasta, soup, smoothies and yogurt and fruit mixtures sound like healthy choices, but since there is no food labeling, customers do not know enough to choose wisely. Vegan or vegetarian options are limited.
To be fair, college food service companies face a daunting challenge. At PCC, the operator has to please a variety of patrons of different ethnic backgrounds and ages, at reasonable prices, at a variety of times during the day, in a relatively small space, and in a way that meets food-preparation, freshness, and health-department standards.
In addition, since the majority of customers are young adults with known proclivities for unhealthful eating, it is hard to know whether healthier options will sell. A number of students queried about the PCC menu offerings expressed satisfaction with what is sold.
During breakfast hours, breakfast burritos seem to be the primary choice of students. One overweight male student chose four strips of bacon, a burrito and a sweetened juice drink. The cafeteria manager at The Piazza said the numerous racks of chips and other snack foods are emptied within a day and have to be promptly replenished.
Unless food choices change at PCC, those who dine regularly at PCC’s eateries and who consume the popular high-sugar, high fat, and high-salt menu items can predict their own health decline.