College students in general (and Hopkins students in particular) are very academically motivated. That’s why we’re here, of course. We’re good at recognizing the importance of working hard, doing well in classes, getting involved in extracurricular activities and fully milking the college experience to prepare us as much as possible for our professional futures.
But what about our future lives? How smart is it to keep health off the list of priorities or off the radar completely?
I get it. Your health doesn’t seem like something you have to worry about yet. You’re young. You have a good metabolism.
Your immune system is strong. Although we have all seen the statistics showing the decline of the health of the average American, of course that isn’t going to apply to you.
Sadly, in the current state of the food industry in America, staying healthy is not something that can happen passively — for anyone. Processed and isolated sugars are added to almost everything — flavored yogurts, sauces, sodas, fruit juices, breakfast cereals, granola bars, dried fruit, burgers — the list is endless. The vast majority of foods that come off the shelf (and probably all of the packaged snacks in your dorm room) have artificial flavors and preservatives designed to extend their shelf lives. Foods like white bread, pasta and white rice had the nutrients processed out of them, leaving a tasteless product full of calories and carbohydrates with little to no nutritional value.
Even many fruits and vegetables are treated with industrial-strength pesticides. In fact if you eat those treated fruits and vegetables without washing them thoroughly, you can often taste the chemicals.
Often times health advocates have so much to say about the state of the food industry that the tempting reaction is “who cares?” You’ve been eating the way you eat for years and you haven’t encountered any problems. Yet.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2012, 117 million people, or approximately half the adults in America, suffered from a chronic health condition. (Adults, by the way, are people age 18 and over. That’s us.) That is more than the number of people who smoke, binge-drink or are obese. You don’t have to be obviously unhealthy to suffer from health problems, and you don’t have to do anything frowned-upon to be putting yourself at risk for serious health problems. Not eating enough fruits and vegetables, consuming too much sodium and having high cholesterol are all diet-related risk factors for serious chronic health conditions.
Even the prevalence of liposuction, face lifts, anti-aging treatment and other cosmetic procedures are indirect evidence of the declining health of Americans and the efforts exerted to reverse the effects. Why not make the effort to eat healthy now to avoid the tremendous pain and inconvenience of trying to compensate for years of unhealthy eating later in adulthood?
Eating healthy is easier than you might think, but it takes thoughtfulness and conscious effort. In addition to decreasing your risk for chronic health conditions, eating right feels good. Your body and mind are more alert and capable, and the quality of your life increases. It can be cheaper, even if you buy high-quality organic foods, as long as you put in the time to choose correctly.
College is about preparing for the future and enjoying the now. And life is about so much more than just your college transcript, your future job, how prestigious your career is and how many digits comprise your salary. Health and happiness matter too.
It’s time to care about treating your body well.