Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Nutritional information and eating disorders

I read this article yesterday, and I am still digesting it: Harvard removes calorie info, cites eating disorders. According to the article, Harvard University Dining Services removed the index cards detailing nutritional information from dining halls. Why? Because of concern that the information was contributing to an already serious issue affecting colleges and universities nationwide: eating disorders. A member of the Dining Services committee said,  "Those individuals can place an undue emphasis on calories and other literal food values, making their placement over every food item a real challenge...we did what we felt best addressed the special health needs of those individuals."
Although Harvard will no longer display the nutritional information alongside the food, the information is still available on the Internet and in dining hall kiosks. Additionally, Dining Services will continue to promote healthy eating among students through forums and informational sessions.
I don't have statistics, but I imagine that the percentage of individuals suffering form eating disorders is relatively high at colleges and universities. I commend any institution that is cognizant of this and wants to do something about it. Nonetheless, it is hard for me to imagine that removing the nutritional information makes that much of a difference. Is it likely that someone suffering from anorexia nervosa is capable of acquiring that information regardless. In fact, an individual so obsessed with food (or the lack thereof) is likely to memorize the caloric value of foods as part of their ritual and survival (or lack thereof). 
Then again, someone obsessed with food might see the caloric value of an apple and decide not to eat the apple whereas someone not suffering from an eating disorder would have no problem with that information.
I'm curious if Harvard is going to try and research the affects of removing the nutritional information. This is such an important issue, and I urge colleges and universities to follow Harvard's lead by looking into the ways that the institution is contributing to this serious health concern.

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