The 15-minute break after the first bell goes is the time for many college students to grab breakfast. And increasingly on the menu are cut fruits, mixed vegetables, steaming oats and fresh juices. Quite a number of colleges are trying to encourage students to go the healthy way by discouraging sale of junk food in canteens.
Over a year after the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Women's Christian College, started a separate outlet to promote healthy eating habits among students, the response is encouraging. Nearly 70 per cent of students who used to skip breakfast to reach college on time are regular at the café.
“When I skip breakfast, the café is the place to find some tasty and healthy snack and also get back to classes on time. Capsicum and paneer sandwich is my favourite item there,” says S. Husna, a second-year student of WCC.
As part of Food Security Year, Stella Maris College is creating awareness among students to eat health food. “The number of chips packets being sold has come down to a great extent on the campus. We are also trying to discourage students from buying chips, noodles and aerated drinks,” says Florence Suganya R., general secretary of students' union, Stella Maris College.
Now, the kiosk selling fresh fruit juices and fruit salads seems to be more popular among students than aerated drinks.
At D.G. Vaishnav College, as part of the Green Club initiative, some snack items have been removed from the menu. Initially the college took it up to reduce litter on the campus.
“Later we realised that it is also good for students' health. The canteen now serves dosas, chappathis and other conventional food,” says P.T. Srinivasan, head, Department of Biochemistry, D.G. Vaishnav College.
According to a study done by M.V. Hospital for Diabetes, the obesity rate among college students in Chennai is 22 per cent.
While some colleges are making an attempt to address the issue, others say that it is impossible to completely ban junk food. “Students were not ready to cooperate when we decided to ban noodles. It is the most convenient and tasty breakfast they can have when they are in a hurry to attend classes that start at 7.45 a.m.,” says Florence.
Adolescents hang out in fast food joints and prefer junk food, which has low nutrient value, say nutritionists. “As per an initial study, it was found that most college students skip breakfast. College canteens are often run on a contract basis. If students are offered only health food, most contractors are concerned about the profit they would make, since students would end up eating out,” says Vijay Viswanathan, Managing Director, M.V. Hospital for Diabetes, Royapuram.
Experts suggest that rather than refraining students from eating certain kinds of food, spreading awareness of nutritional charts and calorific value of food will make a difference. Students should know for themselves and not eat junk even when they go out of the campus, they say.