I teach a basic nutrition class at a local college. One of my students’ projects, The Dietary Analysis, is to keep track of all the food they eat for three days and then assess its nutritional quality.

The assignment looks at whether the student is meeting the basic USDA recommendations for each food group from MyPlate (fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy). The dairy data from my class was disappointing. Here’s the breakdown for 23 students:

Students with 3 (or more) dairy servings daily 1
Students with 2 dairy servings daily 7
Students with 1 dairy serving daily 13
Students with 0 dairy servings daily 2

 

As a registered dietitian, I have serious concerns about my students’ low dairy intake. And I am not alone. A recent University of Illinois study found that students who don’t consume milk foods daily could face both short and long-term health consequences.

On a larger scale than my observation, the Illinois researchers looked at the dietary habits of 339 college students. The lead researcher of the study, Margarita Tera-Garcia, professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition, noticed many students between the ages of 18 to 25 were getting sick frequently. This problem prompted her to conduct an observational study of 339 students and, from that, conclude that their diets were a cause of poor health.

The Illinois study determined that only one-in-four students surveyed was getting the daily-recommended amount of dairy. Garcia said that as a result of their dietary intake, three-fourths of the 18- to 25-year-old college students surveyed were at risk for developing metabolic syndrome.  Metabolic syndrome occurs when a person has three of the following risk factors: abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and unhealthy cholesterol and lipid levels. Having this disorder greatly increases a person’s chances of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Scientists believe that dairy foods guard against both high blood pressure, obesity, and resulting health problems that accompany these two conditions.

Garcia speculated that when young men and women go away to school, many change their dietary habits. They are out of their homes and don’t know what diet is best for their health. Many forget simple things such as drinking a glass of milk.

However, getting enough dairy in college does not have to be challenging. It may be as simple as switching out soda for a glass of fat-free milk at lunch and dinner, adding cheese to salads and sandwiches, as well as grabbing a single-serve yogurt for breakfast or a snack.

So here’s one more assignment for all college students: adopt the USDA dairy recommendation as a young person. It turns out to be an easy, tasty, and low-cost approach to maintaining current wellness and decreasing future health risks.