Despite Health Risks, Junk Food Still Popular Among Students

When the Commons menu includes French fries, trays pile up quickly and ketchup containers empty almost instantly. Andover students are free to choose what they eat, and most yield to the sweet temptations of junk food. Despite the school’s continuous effort to promote healthy eating habits, Ryley Room, vending machines in George Washington Hall, and dormitories still offer a spectrum of unwholesome snacks. “Junk food is certainly a problem among the students. Healthy nutritious food is very accessible on campus, but some do not get them as much as others do,” said Nutritionist Agatha Kip. As many studies have shown, healthy eating provides more stamina, focus, and better scores on standardized tests for students. Excessive consumption of junk food can result in obesity, cardiovascular disease, marked decline in concentration levels, and reduction in athletic ability. Junk food gives those who consume it quick bursts of energy that do not last through a long game or workout. Ms. Kip said, “Junk foods give lackluster energy. I see kids who say that they are tired and do not feel much energized, and it’s partly due to all the fries, pizza, and candies that they eat. Although it depends on your physical conditions, food does matter in how you perform in school. I encourage kids to find healthier options, plenty of which are offered in Commons.” As demand remains strong, it is clear that students still consider innutritious snack foods such as sugar-laced sodas and chocolate caramel as necessities. “I would love it if we can revisit the selection of items in the vending machines, Ryley Room, and even in Commons. But my understanding is that they are there because they are wanted. I would try to get rid of them but the students’ voice comes first,” said Ms. Kip. “Junk food is not the best thing for us but we definitely need it. Especially on nights when we have a ton of workload, late night snacks, for me, are stress relievers. Anything sugary and sweet keeps me awake at night,” said Lindsay Agostinelli ’07. Over the course of her 26-year career, Ms. Kip has observed a notable shift in students’ eating trends toward healthier choices. “Andover is very lenient in allowing the students to have choices. Nowadays, [dining services] in boarding schools are moving towards more vegetarian options. I think the students now realize that they do better in their performance when they eat things that are rich and dense in nutrients,” said Ms. Kip. She continued, “Now, many [students] eat more healthily, as I can see in large consumption of soy milk, tofu, skim milk, salad, and so forth. When I first came to Andover, Commons didn’t have a salad bar. But students wanted one, so now we do.” Agostinelli said, “My friends back home love to eat McDonald’s and take-out food, and not so much homemade food. They think, the fattier the food the better. But I think that PA kids really do make an effort to eat well-balanced meals like tofu and salad.” Apart from the independent nutrition decisions students make every day, PA’s mandatory athletic program also helps to reduce the damaging physical effects of junk food on a growing teenager. Although she trusts the students’ selection of food, Ms. Kip still works relentlessly to offer healthier food options on campus. She also acts as an intermediate between students and Aramark, the catering company for both Commons and Ryley. “If the students don’t think that there is something that they want that is available, I am more than happy to find more. If there’s feedback that needs to be made, I’ll share [it] with [Aramark], and they’ll alter the menu, and there have been such changes made from time to time,” said Ms. Kip. Ms. Kip is starting an online nutritional module and establishing an email system on the Commons website. Ms. Kip will receive e-mails directly in order to encourage student feedback on nutrition. Like Andover, most preparatory schools cater to their students’ love of junk food; many run mini-stores or snack bars similar to the Ryley Room. The Mountain School is the only junk food-free school. Within the rural setting of Vershire, Vermont, students grow their own food as they study and work on an organic farm for the semester.