By TNH Editorial Staff
On Sunday, Dick Cannon made the announcement that the University of New Hampshire would be one of 19 flagship colleges and universities joining the Healthier Campus Initiative sector of Partnership for a Healthier America.
During this announcement, Cannon set the university on track for a lofty goal: Become the healthiest campus in the country by 2020 — just six years away.
The action plan includes limiting fried food items to one per food station at dining halls, ensuring student access to at least one fitness center and implementing incentives for the use of public/campus transportation.
In the layout to make UNH a healthier campus, the “Food & Nutrition” portion says the goal is to offer at least one “wellness meal” during breakfast, lunch and dinner; it aims to offer at least five types of fruits and five types of vegetables and 100 percent whole grain products at lunch and dinner; and if serving dessert, at least three options have to be 150 calories or less.
Let’s break this down. The outline doesn’t define what a wellness meal is, which overlays the entire problem behind this plan: There is no communication about what is healthy and what is not. What is offered in a “wellness meal” as a healthy option may be detrimental to another. Offering bagels and muffins and orange juice and calling it healthy for everyone is not just tempting for someone on their way to diabetes or with diabetes, but is downright unhealthy for them to consume.
Even if UNH can offer five types of vegetables, there is no parameter for what a healthy vegetable is. One person on a Paleo diet will eat veggies covered in butter but will resent vegetables cooked with soybean oil; a vegan will reject the veggies cooked with butter. And what of taste? What of candied-carrots cooked with sugars? What of beats, that contain high FODMAPs and are potentially irritating to people who can’t digest long-chain sugar molecules? What of white potatoes that can irritate the stomachs of those with autoimmune diseases?
Defining a dessert by calories is nothing short of wrong. Calories are units of heat energy; not food-things to be feared. Just because something has less calories does not mean that it is better for you. Most Atkins Diet products (energy bars, brownies, shakes, etc.) contain very low levels of net-carbohydrates (digestible carbohydrates) complemented by a long list of unpronounceable additives. And we call that food?
UNH wants to identify healthier foods by labeling calories of food and beverage items. It’s a lofty sentiment to want label calories and educate consumers; but to instill a practice of calorie-counting that WebMD explains as a cop-out: “Counting calories (or fat grams) is far easier than actually understanding the complex effects food has on our bodies (and our waistlines). Calories do count, but they are far from the whole picture.”
In an article from DietDoctor.com, the author considers calorie counting an eating disorder: “Believing that we need to count calories means we’re severely underestimating our bodies’ natural abilities.”
They may want to tell people that whole grain products are good, but what they don’t explain is that it’s not good for everyone — or most people, if you research it enough. They want to shrink bowls and plates and get rid of trays, but they make no mention of the importance of sleep practices, meditation, social life or other things that students care about. The goals only focus on food/nutrition, physical activity and educational programming. What about sunlight? What about foods without chemicals and pillows for pains?
UNH’s goal to make UNH healthier is precious, but not practical. Not only can UNH’s team of experts not define health, but they cannot define it for a whole campus filled with individuals.