For students with eating disorders and others susceptible to eating struggles, the screens in UNC dining halls, which display caloric information on all foods, are a "huge trigger," UNC junior Gabriela Giulumian said.
In an effort to advocate for students facing these struggles, Giulumian created a petition two months ago pushing Carolina Dining Services to remove calorie labels from the displays in dining halls. The petition had 139 signatures as of Sunday evening.
The typical onset for eating disorders ranges from ages 18-21, which is also the age range for most undergraduate students, Anna Bardone-Cone, UNC professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, said.
Ina 2022 study about college students, around 25 percent of participants struggled with disordered eating and around 3 percent had diagnosed eating disorders, UNC clinical psychology doctoral student Lauren Wash said.
Eating disorders, the second deadliest of all mental illnesses, are at their peak during college years, Bardone-Cone said.
“College students are in this sort of unique environment where they're surrounded by their peers," she said. "For the first time, they're away from home, for a lot of them. They're reestablishing their relationship with food."
Although not all eating disorders are the same, they all involve a “complex relationship with food,” Wash said.
Bardone-Cone also cited a 2017 National Institutes of Health study that showed that calorie labels led to significantly less caloric intake for those with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, and significantly higher caloric intake for those with binge eating disorder.
UNC Media Relations said in an email statement that “U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations require restaurants and other food establishments that serve restaurant type food to post calories on menus and menu signage.“