Better Health: what does it mean for students?

By Ellen Morgan

For many, the Durham student life is a carousel of college bars, Tesco meal deals, and something deep-fried from Stanton’s or Paddy’s to round off a night out. Will the government’s ‘Better Health’ campaign lead us to think twice before indulging in these rituals when we return for a new academic year? How will our day-to-day student lives look when we are bombarded with messages of health and wellness in the place of our unusual unhealthy food?

Students might not be the healthiest demographic in the country, but we must bear in mind that calories don’t tell us everything

Obesity, like any health condition that can reduce both life expectancy and quality of life, needs to be addressed. While aspects of the ‘Better Health’ campaign are certainly admirable, it does not address the socio-economic factors and lack of nutritional education that contribute to obesity in certain communities.

Many people in the UK with eating disorders and other mental health concerns have found their anxieties exacerbated by a lengthy lockdown. Launching a campaign with an implicit ‘thin equals healthy’ message feels badly timed. For some, it will add to guilt and anxiety about weight gained during lockdown.

Listing the calorie counts on menus is not clear cut in terms of benefits.

It is interesting, then, to consider how the ‘Better Health’ campaign will translate in Durham student life. Listing the calorie counts on menus is not so clear cut in terms of benefits. For one, it is incredibly triggering for those recovering from or struggling with disordered eating. Surely the focus of an evening in a restaurant should be to enjoy eating good food with your friends, and not to think about what dish is the lowest in calories?

However, limiting ‘by-one-get-one-free’ offers, and removing sweets at supermarket checkouts will reduce the number of students stocking up on sugary study fuel.

It also means that those who are aiming to lose weight can be better informed about what they are consuming.

From a student perspective, increasing awareness about the calorific value of alcohol may well influence our decisions when it comes to drinking. Calories and food are often referred to together, while the high calorie content of alcohol is sidelined. Calorie counts on alcohol are unlikely to put off heavier drinkers, but at the very least they will increase awareness.

Unlike bigger UK cities, Durham is not a university renowned for its nightlife. Perhaps that is part of the reason why our drinking culture is so prevalent. For a lot of us, a college bar can be better than a club for a night out, even if continuously ordering drinks is more expensive than a one-off entry fee. It doesn’t feel likely that this culture can be changed by putting some numbers on the menu, especially in a College bar where drinks are often favoured by students for their high alcohol content and novelty. 

Physical size is not always an indicator of health.

We must bear in mind that calories don’t tell us everything. With the ‘Better Health’ campaign it seems the government is trying to make it easier than ever before to lose weight so that there are no excuses for those who do not.

It is important, however, to learn that physical size is not always an indicator of health.

How much the student community will be impacted by the ‘Better Health’ campaign is debatable, and perhaps individually-based, but we will certainly see changes at the food hot-spots we love so much.

Image: free photos via pixabay

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