Unhealthy eating habits on campus

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It is never too early in life to start considering whether one is following practices of healthy eating or, if one is already aware, how unhealthy one’s eating habits actually are.

Children and youths are often accused of harbouring unhealthy eating habits because they are spoilt, and how nowadays they have too much commodity, spending too much time in front of the telly, on the computer, or playing video games. However, these factors are not necessarily a main contributor to the obesity problem which this country, and probably most of the Western world, seems to be facing.

Walking along Republic Street, in Valletta, if one were to note what kind of obese people one comes across, it is definitely not just spoilt children. In fact, one notes that obese children are usually accompanied by obese parents and therefore the problem might be hereditary and not necessarily caused by watching too much TV or playing too many video games instead of going outside and practicing some sport.

Along Republic Street, one sees many foreigners. Tourists, foreigners dressed formally as though they are going to work or are currently on break or running some errand, and also what Maltese have been accustomed to refer to as ‘l-immigranti’, that is, the irregular immigrants (some say ‘illegal immigrants’ but that term is politically incorrect) – identifiable by their dark skin (talk about racism), their not exactly designer clothes, the gaze of somebody who, quite reasonably, seems to be disoriented, and the fact they are often carrying papers and documents in their hands presumably because on their way to or have just come from some governmental department.

Between locals and tourists there does not seem to be any stark difference regarding the obesity ratio. On the other hand, a lot of irregular immigrants seem to be quite slim. However, this could be also due to the fact that certain strains of Africans (from where the majority of irregular immigrants come) are genetically tall and slim.

Unhealthy eating habits are not restricted to obesity. On the other end, there are those who are underweight and, as a consequence, probably lacking in valuable nutrients. This issue seems to have been ‘pushed aside’ by the child-obesity concerns, however it does not mean such issues are still not with us today. Malnutrition is still a major concern in what we refer to as third-world countries. There is, as economists having been pointing out for centuries, an imbalanced distribution of resources. While in some parts of the world people are dying from blood cholesterol (too much fat in the blood system), in other parts of the world there are people dying of starvation.

But malnutrition does not only happen in third-world countries. Psychological disorders such as bulimia and anorexia are usually associated with girls and women obsessed about being ‘fat’ and wanting to be as slim as the models that grace the catwalks of international fashion designers. The media informally launched an awareness campaign when it became public that the late Princess Diana had suffered from bulimia. However, talk about such eating disorders seems to have died out.

We should not forget, however, that the majority of people lie in between the two poles of obesity and anorexia. A lot of students on campus probably have unhealthy eating habits despite not being necessarily obese or anorexic. In the past, when life was more rural, the whole family used to meet for lunch at the family table to eat a plate of heartily-prepared goodies by the housewife. Most of the foods we buy readymade in cans and jars used to be handmade at home by able housewives who could have taught the likes of world-renowned chef Jamie Oliver a lesson or two.

At the time it was easier to spread breakfast, lunch and dinner evenly across the day and one could be surer that what was being eaten was genuine and not some dodgy stuff we find in pre-packed foods nowadays.

The scourge of unhealthy eating in Malta is often blamed on the famous ‘pastizzi’. ‘Tal-pastizzi’ – outlets selling pastizzi – seem to have an affinity for fatty foods since besides pastizzi they almost invariable also sell ‘qassatat’, sausage rolls, various pies filled with minced meat, chicken and mushroom, ham and cheese, and even burgers, and finally the small pizzas, usually cut in squares of about 15 cm but some make them round-shaped with more-or-less the same diameter.

The prices of these items are not expensive compared to, for example, buying from McDonald’s. The hygiene levels of these outlets are not clearly stated but then neither is the behind-the-scenes of any other food outlet. Besides I trust that the health inspectors are paid to ensure just that.

It is mainly the irregular eating intervals that I find  unhealthy on campus. The fact that a lot of the food we consume nowadays is pre-packed or precooked is a trend the Western world has taken since the end of the Second World War. The reasons are a more hectic lifestyle with everyone working longer hours. Besides, there is a tendency to use food as a stress buster together with perhaps cigarettes or alcohol. So basically, the next time you go to the canteen think about whether you are truly hungry or simply stressed out instead.

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