Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s renowned medical correspondent, spoke last night about what he says is the largest health threat in America: fat.
Gupta’s speech was the second stop on his “Fit Nation” tour, a seven-city campaign to encourage students to implement health programs in their communities.
“We believe college campuses are the places where the very best changes take place in our society,” he told a crowd of several hundred in the Gerald R. Ford Library.
Gupta, a University alum, began his program by talking about the grave dangers of obesity.
“Obesity may overtake smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.,” he said.
At the beginning of the program, everyone in the audience was given a placard with “true” written in block letters on one side and “false” on the other. As Gupta made statements about obesity, the audience lifted up their placards.
The majority of students believed that most people preferred dieting to exercising in order to lose weight. Yet 61 percent of adults preferred exercise, Gupta said. They were also mistaken about the proportion of University students who get enough exercise each week, which is 60 percent.
Although these statistics may seem positive, there are still serious problems with obesity in America, Gupta said.
“Something President Clinton told me is that the kids that are being born right now have a greater chance of having shorter lifespans than their parents because of the issue of obesity,” Gupta said in an interview.
After Gupta’s speech, students divided into four groups to discuss possible ways to reduce obesity at the University.
Some students offered solutions based on their academic studies.
Kinesiology junior Heather Neary said she has recently completed research on the vending machines in the Central Campus Recreation Building.
According to Neary, most of the vending machines on campus carry primarily junk food. She said there are 9,000 different food options in vending machines, but only 20 of them are fruits or vegetables.
Kinesiology junior Tim Martin posed a different solution to the audience after the group discussions.
“One of the things we talked about was having the dorms have more competitive activities, like exercising more and using intramural sports to get fit,” he said.
Kenneth Warner, dean of the School of Public Health, said he especially liked Martin’s idea.
“There are lots of examples of improvements in health behavior that result from competition and incentives,” Warner said.
He said the competition to get more active could be between dorms, fraternities and sororities or between different Big Ten schools.
Currently, there are several programs at the University to improve fitness. One of them is MSmart, a healthy eating program that helps students make nutritious choices when eating in the dining halls.
The Coalition for Action Regarding Eating and Body Image Issues assists students in accepting different body types and developing “a healthy relationship with food.”
Although it is geared toward faculty and staff, the Active U program is a campuswide effort to promote more activity such as walking, cycling, hiking and using cardiovascular machines. So far there are more than 8000 faculty, administrators and staff members in the program who have logged a total of 8,149,890 minutes of activity.
Although these programs exist to promote more physical activity on campus, University Housing dietician Ruth Blackburn said students often gain weight because they do not take care of their bodies.
Although some may consider the “freshman 15” a myth, Blackburn said many students do gain weight when they come to the University.
“(They) are not eating breakfast and eating more food later in the night,” she said.
She added that students who go to sleep at 2 a.m. need to eat some sort of meal instead of snacking at 9 p.m.
She also said students’ sleeping habits affects their weight.
“When you don’t get enough sleep, your body thinks it needs to go into starvation mode,” Blackburn said. “Your metabolism slows so that you don’t use up as many calories as you’re taking in.”
From the University to CNN
1986-90: Sanjay Gupta studied at University as an undergraduate
1993: Completed a medical degree at the University
2001: Hired by CNN
2003: Embedded with a Navy medical unit in Iraq, performed five emergency surgical operations while reporting
2006: Launched Fit Nation campaign