Duke Dining works hard to educate students about healthy choices on campus. Yet, they still fail to create the most simple and effective improvement to their cafeterias: release caloric and nutritional information for the food that they serve.

I eat two of my daily meals at the self-service buffet on campus, Marketplace, as part of my mandatory freshman meal plan. Beyond having to pay the hefty price of meals (20+ dollars), I’m left in the dark about the food I eat. The freshman diner obscures the simplest nutritional facts about their food, failing to post such information on their labels or even online. Posting nutrition facts (number of calories and macronutrients per serving) on the labels of different meal options will promote healthier eating habits.

First, it will help undergraduates be more conscious of how much they eat. Multiple studies support the argument that labels in University cafeterias help customers choose healthier portions. Many of these studies show that, if these labels are implemented correctly, individuals consume around 100 fewer calories per meal [1]. These studies are specifically aimed at University cafeterias, where many young scholars are beginning to learn how to eat on their own. Restraint is especially difficult when you have a prepaid, all-you-can-eat, buffet-style eatery at your doorstep (that’s from my own recent, personal experiences).

The tendency is that freshmen overeat in these situations. However, the 100 fewer calories per-meal statistic also doesn’t even show the true extent of its health benefits. First, many students will simply choose healthier options when they know where their calories are coming from. Second, individuals in the aforementioned studies who wanted to gain weight downplayed the calories lost for others trying to lose weight in the aggregate 100 fewer calories per meal statistic. This means that those who wanted to lose weight probably ate more than 100 calories less than before.

Additionally, as calorie-counter apps and technologies become more popular (i.e. many of those around me use apps like MyFitnessPal to log calories consumed in order to lose weight) due to their efficacy, it becomes an inconvenience to eat healthy in Marketplace, where nutritional information is often shrouded in mystery.

Duke Dining already attempts to educate its audience to track their calories. It only makes sense for them to display this information in their own cafeterias, so students can actually use their health guides. It is a small addendum to their current efforts that will create large, long-lasting effects.

For example, Duke Dining supports an educational campaign called “Balance Your Plate” that “seeks to address the how-to of healthy eating”. It’s essentially Duke’s version of the MyPlate/MyPyramid diet educational programs. However, Balance Your Plates’ directions (like eating 50-65% carbohydrates per meal) are useless without knowing the macro-nutritional composition of each food. By providing macronutrient information for specific options, students can finally follow the labels to learn which foods provide which type of nutrition (i.e. carb, protein, etc.). By labeling how many grams of carbohydrates in a dish, students will be able to discern whether the extra cake they plan on shoveling onto their plate is a good idea or not. Duke provides nutritionists that create meal plans and tips for their clients; having diet labels will help students who’ve received consultations from these nutritionists to actually follow their meal plans.

Because college is a time when many folks first start making their own nutritional choices, it is imperative to offer them the foundation of learning how to gauge how heavy their foods are. With the advent of false advertisement and constant-competing health claims (“I’m healthy! I’m organic”) from different products, it is important to instill the habit of learning the nutritional information of food to bypass possible misinformation and diet fads. With labels, students will learn to eat healthy at an impressionable time of their lives, which will inform eating decisions after college. It will affect the way that they serve food in their future households—creating a multiplier effect that will influence their friends, family, and progeny.

According to the United Nations Development Programme’s description of their Second Sustainable Development Goal regarding hunger, more than one in eight adults are obese [2]. Adding basic Nutritional facts onto food labels at Universities across the US will substantially educate and help young Americans choose healthier options. The prospect of eating “balanced” and well-portioned foods starts with the measurement of calories. Without labeling their foods, Marketplace will continue to fail at serving healthy habits.

This article was written as an assignment for my PubPol 290S-03 “Innovating for Social Impact” course, taught by Professor Danielle Zapotoczny.


[1] Bleich, Sara N. et al. “A Systematic Review Of Calorie Labeling And Modified Calorie Labeling Interventions: Impact On Consumer And Restaurant Behavior.” Obesity25.12 (2017): 2018-2044. Web. 12 Sept. 2019.

[2] “Goal 2: Zero Hunger | UNDP.” UNDP. N. p., 2019. Web. 12 Sept. 2019.