You are walking across campus on a beautiful, sunny morning. The air is crisp and fresh. You breathe deeply and then you smell that familiar stench of excessively salted fries and fried chicken. Yes, it is Chick-fil-A ramping up for another busy day of serving hundreds of meals to students on campus.
Fast food is a phenomenon that has surged on university campuses across the U.S. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Food Distribution Research in 2015 found that more than 70% of college students eat fast food daily. It is clear even according to the most basic standards that this habit is not healthy. Yet we as college students seem to gravitate toward fast food on campus. As a society, we need to take steps to prioritize the health of college students and provide healthier options for students on campuses.
Before we can learn how to fix this issue, we must first understand the appeal of fast food on campus. First, it is convenient. When students are grabbing food in between classes or trying to work meals into tight gaps in busy, stressful schedules, fast food can seem to be the best option, especially when schools locate fast food in central areas on campus.
The second reason many of us enjoy fast food is more scientific. Fast food contains large amounts of sugar, additives and fat, which we crave. As a result, these elements cause the brain to release pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters such as dopamine and oxytocin when we eat fast food. Thus, fast food can fulfill the desire for “comfort food,” which can be appealing in a high-stress environment such as a college campus.
Although we cannot necessarily change the scientific makeup of our brains, we can improve college dining options. Since one of the main draws of fast food is convenience, we need to make health convenient on university campuses. Instead of placing fast food dining options at centralized places on campus, we should replace these options with quick, efficient options that have healthier ingredients. With healthier options in convenient locations with quick turnaround times for meals, students will find healthier options appealing.
However, we as students cannot solely blame schools and society for the prevalence of fast food on campuses. As individuals, we must put our health first and become intentional about pursuing healthier options. We must take responsibility for our bodies and what we put in them.
The change has to start with us, the students. As a society, we must realize that it is a mistake to ingrain the fast food craze into the daily lives of young people. As citizens blessed to live in a nation with access to many healthy options, we should take advantage of the resources we have and make them more accessible on college campuses. If we replace fast food with better options, we can live better and feel better as we move forward.