Midnight runs to McDonalds. Fourth meal at Taco Bell. Happy hour after happy hour at Sonic. Between juggling homework assignments, maintaining social circles and avoiding the cafeteria food, fast food becomes more than just a convenience. It is a way of life for a college student.
Sophomore Allie Miller is one of the 83 percent of college students that visit fast food restaurants on a weekly basis. Miller said she mostly eats out with her friends on weekends.
“It is convenient, fairly inexpensive and you get pretty good food,” she said. “After eating every meal in the caf every single day, it is nice to get something a little bit different.”
According to a study by the University of Leicaster, lack of time, an unwillingness to prepare food and a limited budget proved the main reasons students preferred Mickey D’s to healthier options.
Another main factor? Peer pressure. When a student’s friends loaded up the car to hit up a local fast food joint, he felt compelled to go and make unhealthy orders once he got there.
So what’s the problem? According to the 2011 Trust for America’s Health Report entitled “F is for Fat,” every state in the nation has obesity rates of more than 20 percent—with the exception of Colorado—and fast food plays a major role in the “growth” of our nation.
Students worried about the freshman 15 need to pay attention to the foods they are consuming. A Big Mac combo at McDonalds tallies up at 1,230 calories, that’s over half of the recommended daily nutrition recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And the Whopper combo at Burger King comes in at a whopping 1,400 calories.
If your body only needs 2,000 calories a day to function, than anything extra is stored away as fat. Eating fast food multiple times a week makes you more susceptible to being overweight or obese. And obesity can heighten your risk for other health problems like heart disease, stroke, joint disorders, high blood pressure and mobility problems.
But if future consequences like heart disease and high blood pressure are not enough to scare college students away from Taco Bell’s Taco-12 Packs, fast food consumption provides plenty of immediate symptoms.
A “hamburger hangover” or a recurrent, intense headache triggered by processed foods is one such symptom. The processed foods served on the menus at fast food joints contain ingredients like nitrate, monosodium glutamate and artificial sweeteners that increase blood flow and lead to head pressure and pain.
A diet high in fast foods can also lead to bad moods or even depression. Research from the University College London shows that individuals who regularly ate processed foods high in fat and sugar were more likely to suffer from depression than those who ate a more balanced diet. Fast foods lack nutrients like antioxidants, folate and omega-3s that contribute to good mental health.
And if all of that is not enough, fast food has even proven itself addictive. The high levels of sugar and fat cause blood sugar levels to spike and then crash, causing patrons to reach for the fries again to replicate the euphoric effects of those insulin surges.
Despite all the lures fast food has to offer, some students have managed to maintain their healthy diets and avoid the greasy chains. Junior Wil Ross tries to eat as little fast food as possible.
“I consider a healthy diet to be an essential element to healthy living and a healthy life,” Ross said. “I avoid eating fast food by not going to the drive though and eating it. To not eat fast food is as much a conscious decision as any.”
However, Ross acknowledges that certain circumstances make eating fast food inevitable.
“If I must eat at a fast-food restaurant, I look at the menu and find whatever food will be prepared with the least amount of salt, grease and breading,” he said. “While these ingredients taste good, they clog the digestive tract and leave you feeling lethargic and bloated.”
Like most things in life, fast food can be okay in moderation. Feasting on fries every once in a while is fine if you are supplementing your diet with the nutrients your body needs.
“I am young and my health is good, so why not?” Miller asked. “It is not like I have a problem and am hanging out at McDonalds every day. I promise!”