The Skinny At Villanova University: Analyzing Villanova’s eating habits



Marissa Yanos

The infamous phrase “the freshman 15” has been floating around college campuses nationwide. The well-known saying conveys the belief that incoming freshmen will gain 15 pounds within their first year at school. It is apparent that many college students are concerned with unhealthy weight gain – and for good reason.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity rates in America have increased over the past 25 years and 34 percent of U.S. adults 20 years and over are obese.

Although easy to picture, obesity can be difficult for many to describe.

Obesity, as defined by the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, is “an abnormal accumulation of body fat, usually 20 percent or more over an individual’s ideal body weight.”

With take-out menus being dispersed throughout residence halls at the beginning of every school year and the freedom to eat whatever one craves, it is a wonder that the majority of students at Villanova are not considered overweight.

“There aren’t many obese individuals on this campus,” said Jessica Pellicciotta, the coordinator of nutrition and fitness programs at Villanova’s Office of Health Promotion. “Students are pretty healthy.”

“They seem young and fit,” said Kathryn Rhoads, a freshman undeclared liberal arts major.

“Villanovans are pretty healthy,” said Flavia Godoy, a senior economics and Spanish major. “I think that everyone is somewhat conscious of their health, trying to avoid too large of a fluctuation in weight.”

Although many Villanovans are not perceived as being overweight, there is an official medical method used to diagnose obesity.

According to the Obesity in America Web site, health care professionals rely on the Body Mass Index as their main tool in identifying obesity. One’s BMI represents one’s weight in proportion to height. A person can calculate his BMI by multiplying his weight by 703 and then dividing this total by his height – in inches – squared. A person with a BMI of 25 or over is considered obese.

If the positive perception of an average Villanovan’s health is true, it may be directly related to the on-campus eating environment.

Villanova’s Dining Services Menu Committee decides what new foods will make it into on-campus dining halls. According to Tim Dietzler, the director of Dining Services, the current criterion for incorporating new foods into existing menus is nutrition and the absence of hydrogenated oils.

The meticulous care Dining Services is taking towards food selection is one shared by numerous food connoisseurs currently revamping their business menus.

The 2006 Worlds of Healthy Flavors Symposium, attended by Dietzler and other corporate and executive chefs, provided information on ways to create healthier menus.

Dining Services has recently implemented an organic salad bar and eliminated trans-fat and hydrogenated fat products from all eateries on campus.

“We care about the health of our students,” Dietzler said.

“Students want variety, but we have a responsibility to take care of the health of our students.”

While the elimination of trans-fat and hydrogenated fat products from Villanova’s campus may have reduced the variety of foods offered to students, it may have contributed to students’ overall health.

According to the Obesity in America Web site, “Weight gain and obesity are caused by consuming more calories than the body needs – most commonly by eating a diet high in fat and calories, being sedentary or both.”

In addition to Dining Services’ implementation of a healthier dining hall menu, the Health and Wellness Center has been offering a variety of free health services to students.

Free consultations on fitness and nutrition topics, cooking demonstrations, shopping tours and residence hall presentations are only a few services available to Villanova students year-round through the Office of Health Promotion.

The Office of Health Promotion also conducts a 10-week “Healthy Habits for Life” nutrition and fitness program twice a year. Program participants set wellness goals and learn how to establish lifelong healthy habits. As an added incentive to partake in the program and adopt a healthy lifestyle, students who achieve their goals are given a refund of the program’s $50 participation fee.

“Our goal is to be the health educators of the campus and make sure students have resources available to them on any health-related topic,” Pellicciotta said.

For students who lack the desire to make the daily trek to the nearest gym or to workout at all, Pellicciotta recommends renting exercise videotapes from the library, doing in-room exercises, focusing on daily decisions and setting realistic goals.

Another reason many Villanova students are enjoying good health may be because of their personal interest in health.

In 2006, a large group of students attended the “Workout Weekend Retreat,” created by Flavia Godoy, a Villanova Retreat Council member.

The popularity of the retreat may suggest the interest Villanova students have in their personal health.

“We had a very good turnout, especially with the guys, who tend to be less likely to go on retreats,” Godoy said. “Because of the success, we are already planning for Workout Weekend Two for the end of next semester.”

“The goals of the retreat were to better equip students to be healthy – in mind, body and soul – and to challenge them to work on their health,” said Godoy, who created the retreat after reading “The Peaceful Warrior,” the story of a college student athlete who is mentally and physically challenged to become a peaceful warrior.

The retreat included activities such as meditation, power yoga, rock climbing and ultimate Frisbee. Pellicciotta also made a presentation on the importance of eating breakfast and demonstrated exercises that could be done within a student’s room.

According to the “Oxford Companion to the Body,” sustained aerobic exercise, similar to some activities on the retreat, trains the heart, lowers blood pressure and tends to reduce body fat. A sedentary person should strive to achieve 30 minutes of exercise a day three days a week.

Lack of activity that results in obesity can cause hypertension, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, strokes, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, respiratory problems and a variety of cancers, according to CDC.

As thousands of Americans battle these detrimental health issues, Villanova may be somewhat assured that the majority of its students are on the move toward healthy living.