The University of Victoria implemented a simple new program this year that aims to put an end to the freshman 15.
The post-secondary institution is the first public institution in B.C. to adopt the province’s Informed Dining program, which gives customers – in this case mostly students and staff – a full nutritional breakdown of all menu options before placing an order at any of the UVic-run food outlets.
“For many first-year students, depending on what their eating habits have been historically, they’re making their own choices for the first time. So they’re deciding what they’re having for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and it’s not being decided by their parents,” said Jim Dunsdon, UVic’s associate vice-president of student affairs. “So for many students, if they’re living on campus, they’ll have meals prepared for them (by food services) and it’s really important for them to know what’s in those meals in order to make healthy choices.”
The freshman 15 is a commonly used expression that refers to the weight gain many first-year students experience, as a result of increased access to unhealthier foods.
The nutritional guide contains all the nutritional information customers would want – from cholesterol to calcium, highlighting to big two: calories and sodium. It covers every menu item at the six University Food Service restaurants on campus.
“It was a ton of work for our registered dieticians. … For years we’ve had students asking us, ‘What’s in this food? What’s the sodium content?,’ so it’s really nice to have this information readily accessible to them,” Dunsdon said.
Health Minister Terry Lake says the Informed Dining program is part of a prevention strategy to keep British Columbians healthy, which includes maintaining an active lifestyle and making smart food choices.
“We know proper nutrition is important to maintain their energy, to avoid illness and to help allow students to keep pace with their busy lives. Making healthy choices when eating on campus can be a real challenge,” he acknowledged.
Lake pointed to a roasted red pepper and hummus melt on the Informed Dining menu at UVic’s Village Greens, acknowledging the food sounds healthier than it is. A single serving of that dish contains 990mg of sodium, 30mg of cholesterol and 450 calories.
“Who knew hummus had so much sodium?” Lake asked.
There are currently 1,500 restaurants in B.C. participating in the Informed Dining program.
Dunsdon says the nutritional information won’t just inform customers, the university will use the information to better plan its food offerings.
“One of the next steps is now that we have all this information, we’re going to go through and reassess our food offerings we provide,” he said. “I believe students will begin to make different choices about what they’re eating, and we’ll respond to that.”