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Fast Food Epidemic Ravaging UK Universities

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Going to university is not only one of the biggest decisions anyone can make but also significantly represents a monumental lifestyle change. Many young adults, before starting university, become accustomed to the responsibility-free and comfortable lifestyle they have at home. So when they start university, students are unprepared to even carry out basic everyday tasks such as cooking for themselves. 

As with anything in life, when the going gets tough, it’s only human nature to take short cuts. Especially in the case of university students, as they are in the position of having to be fully independent for the first time in their lives. 

Specifically focusing on cooking, the short-cut or ‘alternative cheat’ being the enticing draw of fast-food. 

Why Fast-Food?

When a student moves away from home to go to university, they instantaneously lose the traditional family ritual of eating together. Likewise, they can no longer depend on anyone else to cook them a healthy and nutritional homemade meal. Add to that the lack of interest or motivation to cook and the inadequate preparation in bringing good cooking equipment/utensils, fast-food becomes easily desirable. 

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Photo Credit: TotallyBlond / Shutterstock

Another important aspect to consider is the change in pace of life at university. Unlike home, there is so much to do academically and socially at all hours of the day. When not in lectures or tutorials – the opportunity to socialise and indulge in the extravagant night-life. Pressed for time or simply from a fear of missing out, students fail to make an active effort to shop for fresh ingredients and cook a quality meal from scratch. With fast-food being conveniently accessible and wallet-friendly, students end up descending into a spiral of fast-food eating at university. 

The mentality of student’s approach to cooking at university should also be taken into account. Many students cannot justify to themselves spending hours preparing and cooking a meal from scratch, for them to then only eat it within 15 minutes. For them that’s the opportunity cost of spending time doing something else like socialising, studying or relaxing. 

Shifting from healthy homemade meals to consistently consuming addictive fast-food can be highly detrimental. Since fast-food contains high levels of salt, sugar and fat – it increases the risk of weight gain and obesity. 

Methodology 

The main towns and cities were selected from across the UK and the main university from each of these towns and cities were then selected. Using nine well-established fast-food brands, as well as taking into account independent kebab and fish & chip shops, sellhousefast.uk found out the exact amount of fast-food outlets within a one-mile radius of the central point of each university. 

The perimeter was set to a one-mile radius because students crave convenience and want to access whatever is nearby. Also taking into account that most students don’t either have or bring with them their own vehicle to university, they are not likely to venture beyond what’s local for food. 

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The Findings 

Our research astoundingly found that Plymouth University had the highest number of fast-food outlets, an astounding 33 shops, within a one-mile radius. Plymouth University was then followed by The University of Leeds and Edinburgh, which both had 31 fast-food outlets within a one-mile radius. 

The University of Durham, Birmingham and Derby all had the lowest number of fast-food outlets, with each only having six within a one-mile radius.

 Previous academic research has found that those living near a high number of takeaway food outlets tend to eat more takeaway food and are twice as likely to be obese compared to those less exposed. Our findings can therefore correlate that the higher the number of fast-food outlets within a one-mile radius of a university, the more likely the respective students of the university are to have bad eating habits and be unhealthy. 

Student Perspectives

“I was so looking forward to going to University but when I got there, reality hit me like a train. At home my mum cooked and shopped for me, so I was really dependent on her. Here at University, I am struggling – I can barely cook and have no idea what I am doing. With a lot of fast-food places located around the university, most days I find myself eating cheap fast-food” – David, Plymouth University

“The sheer amount of fast-food available on my doorstep makes it hard to resist, especially as it’s so cheap. I rarely cook a meal from scratch and have put on a few pounds since leaving home…thinking about it now I am probably the unhealthiest I have every been” – Alex, The University of Leeds

“Life at University is unpredictable. Unlike home where I had boundaries, at University I dedicate my own time. Whilst I do try and make an active effort to attend every lecture as well as cook and clean for myself, I really want to enjoy myself therefore find myself going out every night. As a result, I usually end up eating a kebab, burger or pizza most days” – Lucy, The University of Bristol

riot-eating-unhealthy-burger

Photo Credit: Niik Leuangboriboon

“I try to cook and eat healthily but many of my friends are in a fast-food rut as its so convenient and speedy. The temptation of fast-food is everywhere…five mins from my halls of residence there are four takeaway options and they have plenty of business from the students living in the area” – Maria, The University of Sheffield 

“All my life I have been so used to my parents traditional and tasty home cooked meals. Now at University, when I try to replicate them, I can’t seem to get it right. After spending so much money on ingredients, fast-food has become my staple diet as it is so cheap and convenient” – Max, The University of Portsmouth 

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