Hartnett: Iowa State missing out on newest health trend – and profits

Annie Hartnett

As a student, like many of you, I find myself complaining about being “constantly on the go,” even in the summertime. If I’m not rushing to work or finishing a class assignment last minute, I wouldn’t know myself. Despite all of this, I pride myself on being a conscious eater (if not overly so) and therefore place a lot of importance on what I put into my body. It is not hard to realize that these two habits do not mix so well.

This is especially the case when most of my time is spent outside of my apartment, so a lot of the food I wind up eating is bought right here on campus, and usually on the way to another location. You’d think this would give me healthier options to choose from, yet every time I try to find anything decent out of a vending machine or a healthy, low-calorie option at a cafe, I end up disappointed and eating food I wish I wasn’t.

Now what I realize, and what many of you are thinking, is that this is not a new lament. People have been complaining about the useless junk food in vending machines for years (I mean, who IS selecting that big pack of sandwich cookies in the bottom row anyway?), and I’m sure they will for years to come.

I also realize that people have complained about the vast amount of extra calories in the café food options, and that it hasn’t really gotten them anywhere. The reason I’m sure is that café bakery and meal options are meant to fill people up and taste good, so the best they can do is offer some lower calorie options of the same type of food and hope people practice portion control.

All of these explanations and the others that follow I understand, I really do. And maybe a few years ago I would have let these arguments go, but today, keeping up a system where healthy options are either non-existent or placed in little carts next to the register just seems irresponsible.

But see, unlike most people who have raised this issue before me who claim irresponsibility in the health-conscious sense, which is obviously apparent, I mean irresponsibility in the business sense. Iowa State has yet to fully recognize the degree to which college students, especially those at Iowa State, have joined the newest health bandwagon, and is therefore missing out on an entire market and the profits that follow.

If some are left wondering what this newest bandwagon entails, it is not hard to spot: it is what I like to call being on the “app diet,” or using social media sites and smart phones as a healthy tool. For a more specific example, consider the amount of time students, mainly women, spend on sites like Pinterest, looking up colorful charts of quick gym workouts or a “skinny” version of their favorite meal. Then there are the apps that let you look up virtually any food to track your nutritional intake and exercise throughout the day. Pair this with the already pervasive “Go Green” trend and you have a young adult generation that is constantly reinforced with the idea of being healthier.

This applies even more to Iowa State, which has consistently been listed as one of the fittest colleges in the nation, and even received the #1 spot on Men’s Health Magazine’s list of the top 25 fittest colleges last year. Sure, this may not go directly towards food, but it is proof that we here at Iowa State clearly enjoy taking care of our bodies.

As far as vending machines go, healthy vending is on the rise and an almost surefire bet. In a 2010 study report by the Snack Food Association, roughly 74 percent of consumers are trying to eat healthier, with about 65 percent eating specific foods to lose weight. It also went on to show that healthier snack sales are outpacing traditional snack food at a ratio of 3-1.

For those concerned with profits, another study done by the Nutrition and Physical Activity Program for the Prevention of Obesity initiated a pilot project in 2009 to stock up machines with healthier foods to determine if these products really did cause lower profits. The project showed that these products actually increased profits and created sustained demand for the healthier options afterwards.

For the campus cafes, people may argue with me and say that healthier, fresher options would be more expensive. In my mind, this is just a lack of creativity. For instance, instead of buying those plastic hummus and pita chip bundles they currently sell at the cafes, they could just as easily make and bundle their own hummus and chips and use the leftovers as a healthier option sandwich spread, or allowing people to buy prepackaged light salad dressings at the register.

In fact, simply making the availability of healthy substitute options more prevalent at campus cafes would completely open up their menus and drive profits. Or, maybe more effective still, Iowa State cafes could simply take a cue from students and get on Pinterest themselves and see exactly what their customers want.

Top all of this off with the fact that we’re home to one of the top agriculture colleges in the nation, and belong in a state occasionally called “The Food Capital of The World,” we are certainly not lacking the means to implement a healthier menu, let alone some healthier options. In fact, it seems Iowa State has the best opportunity out of any school to transform itself into not only the fittest university in America , but the all-around healthiest; a title sure to bring our campus both prestige and new students.

So my question remains, why haven’t we again?