Calorie Count on Staircases at the IE University Tower

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As you enter the newly built IE Tower, you’re met with an inspiring, modern, and freeing design. The feeling can be almost overwhelmingly positive, as you breathe in the enthusiasm from the building and people around you. But then, the bank of lifts. While that option is quick and exciting, it may not be the best stepping stone to a healthy future for you or the planet. To encourage people to use the healthier alternative, the stairs being directly next to the elevators, IE introduced a calorie count on the staircase.

Next to the elevators, you can see a small blue sign on the staircase with a potential impact much larger than its size would suggest. The sign reveals the calories you would burn should you brave the many flights up to your lecture. This is IE’s attempt to motivate more stair traffic. At first glance, this seems like a positive approach to encourage young people to exercise and, later, reap the benefits of basic cardiovascular activity. Almost a “no brainer.” However, upon closer inspection, this display represents a lack of awareness of how prevalent and all-consuming eating disorders have become in the younger generation. More specifically, how harmful counting and considering calories is for those suffering. 

One of the calorie markers as shown on every new flight of stairs. Photo courtesy of the author.

By focusing the conversation on calories, it is easy to see how the simple act of walking up a staircase can so easily move from a beneficial experience to a catastrophic obsession with weight loss. With another small step, this could lead to illnesses such as anorexia, bulimia, and other obsessive and compulsive disorders. One IE student who noticed the calorie counts on the staircase emphasized that “Every time there is an emphasis put on a number, whether they’ll be calories, weight (…) in regard to health it can have a negative effect, because it can very quickly become an obsessive thing. It could pressure students to look at the numbers, which seems to be a very prevalent thing at this school.”

In an interview with Doctor Patricia Dery, a clinical psychologist, she affirmed that “[in her opinion], focusing on calories is never as helpful as focusing on healthy choices, and in some cases it can contribute to an already unhealthy mindset.” Additionally, The Times, a well-established British newspaper, posted an article entitled “Counting calorie intake can trigger eating disorders,” where they explain that new research shows an important correlation between counting calories and eating disorders. The correlation exists mostly within our generation, Generation Z, where there are four times more diagnosed mental illnesses than previously.

Of course, not everyone feels the harmful impacts. Celine Emir, a first year BCDM student, explained that “Maybe it does not necessarily have to have a bad effect on every single person, however, I do not believe that it was essential to add this to the stairs, especially with our generation nowadays being so vulnerable to this type of thing (…), making these calorie counts very unnecessary.” This opinion was equally supported by another student, who expressed that “Personally I don’t care about numbers, but I think if you really are aiming to lose weight it could lead to bad habits, and the calories could be seen as a very harmful motivation.” 

Calorie marks might appear as part of this modern, minimalist infrastructure, but the ripple effect it has on certain students may be deeper than the intended benefits. These opinions and acknowledgement of possible harm could perhaps inspire the university to rethink its approach to the matter. With a different execution, this well-meaning initiative could yield more positive results. Providing a holistic display of the many health benefits of daily exercise, like enhanced mental performance, reduced risk of disease, and strengthened bones and muscles, could draw the focus away from weight loss and back to leading a healthy, happy life.

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