- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 20, 2006

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Sunny Dawson ran two miles every other day when she started her freshman year at the University of Southern California. But the lure of the cafeteria near her dorm became too much to resist.

“Everyone I know went crazy, ‘Oh … pizza. Oh … ice cream,’” she said.

Miss Dawson soon stopped running and “started piling up the food in the cafeteria.”

By Christmas break, the 5-foot-10-inch native of Haleiwa, Hawaii, had gained 10 pounds.

“I realized I don’t have to be a victim of this and started making better choices,” she said. “I ate a lot of salads and cut out sodas altogether. By spring break, I was normal again. I was stoked.”

As high-school graduates start college this month and next, universities are offering a range of tools to help them avoid Miss Dawson’s mistake. Although many say the so-called “Freshman 15” is usually only 5 to 7 pounds, it’s a common experience for many college newcomers who are faced with the unlimited cafeteria food, late-night pizza binges and snacking that comes with irregular student schedules.

“The patterns and the habits that students get into in the first two to three months of school is what tends to carry them through the rest of their time on campus,” said Jen Ketterly, nutrition and fitness coordinator for campus health services at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Nearby Duke University offers an interactive nutrition workshop for freshmen with eating problems.

“A lot of kids really don’t have a clue of what they’re not supposed to eat and what constitutes a healthy diet,” says Jenny Favret, the nutrition manager at Duke’s Eating Disorders Program.

The problem isn’t always weight gain: Some new students lose weight because they no longer get three meals a day from Mom and Dad.

“Oftentimes, students have a very difficult schedule. They don’t have enough time to eat [properly], so they eat a lot of snacks,” said Joshua Solano, 20, of Florida, who will be a junior at Duke this year. “I actually lost a little weight from my irregular eating habits.”

Campus cafeterias have improved their menus over the years and now offer more healthy choices, such as salad bars, said Kim Dude, director of the Wellness Resource Center at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

“Then the issue is how to educate students on how to make the right choice,” she said.

Miss Dawson, a 19-year-old business major entering her sophomore year at USC, will lead a program for about 65 of her fellow dorm residents — mostly freshmen — on making healthy living choices.

“A lot of freshmen,” she said, “just don’t know what they’re getting into right now.”

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