Article Image
Columbia Spectator Staff

While this column space is usually reserved for discussion of athletics in the Ivy League, allow me to venture into the broader realm of exercise and public health this week. In recent months, states such as New York and Massachusetts have enacted laws requiring fast-food restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus. The thinking is that by seeing for themselves the massive amount of calories they will be consuming, customers will opt for healthier choices than they would have otherwise. New York has also proposed a 15 percent tax on non-diet sodas, so as to decrease demand for the beverages. The proposals are not without merit. When cynics feel they have been proven right by the steadfastness of consumers in buying junk food, what is needed is not a cessation of public health initiatives, but the creation of competitive alternatives. While it will be helpful for fast-food restaurant patrons to be aware of the calories they will be consuming, the disincentive to buy fattening food is much reduced when there are no supermarkets within reasonable distance. When juice, fruits, and vegetables are not sold, they cannot be viable choices; soda and candies become the default. While it is helpful to ban vending machines selling sugary drinks such as Snapple and soda in schools, the effect could be amplified by serving healthy lunches in the cafeteria. I bring this issue up today to discuss what could be done for public health right here at Columbia. I believe that athletics at a school involves being not only a spectator, but a participant. Athletics do not only involve watching an event for enjoyment, but also being able to participate in your own physical activity. Columbia already does a good job in this regard by offering physical education classes, but more can, and should, be done. As a student on the Morningside campus, it's possible to stay within a half-mile radius of the campus on nine out of 10 weekdays. While Columbia is bounded by two parks on the east and west, it becomes too easy to lie idle in one's dorm and gain the freshman 15. That's why I propose that student activities should better utilize the green space around campus for fitness activities. While organizations such as Race for the Cure already organize runs for the community, the University could better coordinate with such organizations, helping out a great cause and promoting a healthy activity at the same time. More could also be done in helping the student body access Baker's facilities. Levien can get very crowded with activities and practices, but Baker Field is a great resource that is continually underutilized outside of gym classes. Solutions could consist of organizing transportation uptown, or organizing more intramurals using the facilities. At a school such as Columbia, where social activities that appeal to the entire student body are few and far between, physical exercise could have a broad, wide-ranging appeal that is missing even at football games. Competing with a location that has as many options as New York requires creativity, and turning something that is a chore for many into a social exercise could be a solution. New York has an image of being an island where people are fit and walk everywhere. However, as a Columbia student, one knows that it can be tough to stay in shape in Manhattan. It would be a good investment for the University to organize more physical activities for the student body outside of PE. Lack of exercise is a problem that grips the entire country, and solving it starts at home.