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August 3, 2009 | by  | in Opinion |
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Health

Has your Fresher Five now turned into Ten? Are you suffering the consequences of a year-long diet of instant noodles and booze? Do you find that you are no way near as fit as you used to be in college?

For many young New Zealanders, leaving home and going to university can be very difficult, and staying healthy is often the last thing on their minds. A combination of bad eating, lack of exercise, alcohol and stress can lead to weight gain and poor health. Studies show that the first year of tertiary education is critical time in which overweight and obesity rates increase among students. Adolescents and young adults who are obese are more likely to stay obese in their later adult years.

The obesity epidemic is a global phenomenon, and is quickly becoming a major problem in New Zealand. In 2007, one in three adults were overweight and one in four adults were obese. The statistics in Maori and Pacific ethnicities are much higher, with 41% of Maori and 63% of Pacific people being obese.

Obesity has been described as a complex system, influenced by multiple individual-level factors and socio-environmental factors. It has been the topic of much research for over two decades, with many advances made in changing individual level factors, such as behaviour modifications (dieting, increasing your exercise etc.). Socio-environmental factors are those which we cannot individually control, such as cost of healthy food, marketing and retail of high calorie food, and accessibility and costs of gyms.

Our changing environment tends to promote sedentary behaviour and intake of high calorie foods. This is exaggerated in the university environment—the binge drinking culture is embraced, and home-cooked nutritious meals become a luxury, only to be eaten when returning home to mum’s cooking.

Despite this, it’s important to create good eating and exercise habits early in life. Long-term obesity can lead to a number of health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes. Cardiovascular (CV) disease is the major cause of premature death in New Zealand. CV disease is the umbrella term used to encompass conditions including ischaemic heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Type II diabetes is a metabolic condition, caused by resistance and insensitivity to insulin, an important compound produced by the pancreas. Insulin promotes uptake of glucose in the blood. People who are overweight are at higher risk of developing type II diabetes. The complications of uncontrolled and long-term diabetes are renal problems, impaired nerve function (neuropathies), CV disease and blindness.

If you have been thinking about improving your health for a while now but don’t know where to start, then make an appointment at Student Health and chat to one of the nurses about making your health goals achievable.

Alternatively, you can visit the Recreation Centre and sign up for a gym membership. They are cheap for students and staff members, and their friendly personal trainers can help you develop an exercise programme to suit your needs. The recreation centre also has clubs and groups you can join, and regularly run sports leagues.

There are loads of fun activities going on at the university, and it can be a great way to meet people.

If you want to develop a better understanding and relationship with your eating, then the BodySense course may be for you. This six-week course for women is run by a qualified nutritionist, Tania Coombes. BodySense helps young women to develop a better relationship with food and eating. Contact the counselling services or the Recreation Centre to enrol.

Victoria Physiotherapy Clinic and Student Health are running a ten-week pilot for Maori and Pacific Island students called Lighten Up. Lighten Up is a new initiative, and is free for students. Each week, there is a one-hour group exercise session, followed by a 30-minute educational session. The physiotherapist will also design a home programme for you to work on. The programme is aimed at changing lifestyle, so is ideal for Maori and Pacific students who want to improve their eating and exercise habits. There are some great incentives to join, such as free short-term gym memberships, education sessions run by a nutritionist, and fun activities every week. There are limited spaces, so if you are interested in enrolling then contact the Victoria Physiotherapy clinic, or Student Health.

Cory Toatoa, Physiotherapist
Victoria Physiotherapy Clinic

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