A university students sits in front of a laptop, eating a pizza and drinking a Coca-Cola.

All Those Ramen Noodles Might Catch Up With You

Everyone has poor eating habits in university, but that's just a phase without any long-term negative consequences, right? Maybe not.


Amidst the heavy workload and endless deadlines of an undergraduate degree, it’s easy to let healthy eating habits fall to the wayside. Healthy food can also be expensive on a typical undergraduate student’s budget, and not all university dining halls offer healthy options that meet everyone’s dietary needs.

While many students likely tell themselves that they’ll improve their diets once they graduate, a new study has found that this may be too little, too late. According to the study, poor eating habits in university can cause to obesity, respiratory illnesses, and depression later in life.

The study included contributions from Joan Bottorff, a professor in the School of Nursing at the University of British Colombia Okanagan, and was published in Preventive Medicine Reports.

Previous research has shown that students’ diets worsen upon entering university. A number of factors contribute to this change in eating habits, including poor education about healthy eating and a lack of affordable healthy food options. But how do these poor eating habits affect students beyond their degrees?

To learn more, the researchers behind this study surveyed nearly 12,000 university students from 31 different universities in China. Their goal was to search for links between unhealthy eating habits and diseases such as obesity, chronic illnesses, and mental illnesses.

The results of their study showed that unhealthy eating habits established during university can persist for years — and cause issues that can last the rest of a student’s life. Over time, students with poor eating habits went on to develop obesity and respiratory illnesses, as well as mental health issues such as depression. The researchers also found that poor eating habits were linked to a higher prevalence of colds and diarrhea, which can be indicators of infectious diseases.

“The bottom line here is that we shouldn’t be ignoring this risk pattern among young people at university,” Bottorff said in a press release.

“It is well documented that a significant portion of students have unhealthy diets. The types of foods they are eating are linked to obesity. And this can lead to other health problems that are not just about chronic disease but also infectious diseases.”

Bottorff went on to explain that we can help by ensuring that our universities offer healthy food options at an affordable rate for students. This includes not just dining hall meals, but also snacks and drinks in on-campus vending machines. Universities also need to make sure that healthy options are available for different dietary restrictions.

“We need to think about the food environment that we provide students,” Bottorff said. “We need to ensure that in our cafeterias and vending machines, there are healthy food options so that they can eat on the go but also make healthy food choices.”

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Emily Deibert is a PhD student in the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto with a passion for science outreach and communication. She earned her HBSc (Astronomy, English, and Mathematics) at the University of Toronto. She is excited about turning scientific research into stories and sharing these stories with the public.