The University Park Health Center launched its Nutrition Series 2009 Monday, an effort to set itself apart from other nutritional programs by focusing on specific healthy food choices for students on campus,
The series, an attempt to steer students away from just counting calories, will be presented to students as interactive seminars at various locations on campus throughout this semester. Each seminar will be focused on a separate topic, such as the best foods for midterms and finals or food choices for athletes.
According to Patrice Barber, a registered dietitian at the health center who will be conducting the seminars, the goal of the series is to show students a simpler way to make decisions about food on campus.
“I would love to see students get basic, sound nutrition information and leave with confidence and excitement to put it into action in their lives,” Barber said.
Barber, who worked for USC Hospitality for eight years, said her experience there allowed her to learn about students’ interests and accumulate ideas for the program so that it can address their concerns.
She added that the specificity of the program sets it apart from other nutritional initiatives aimed at students, because it explains to them exactly how to deal with food choices, rather than general nutritional information about food ideals.
“You leave knowing what to eat. What students are after is what to eat right now,” Barber said. “You can pick up a book to read how many calories are in a gram of fat.”
The first session, titled “Beyond Pizza: Eating Well at EVK and Parkside,” to be held at the Lyon Center Monday, will include a discussion about what to choose from the array of menu options at the two dining halls. More broadly, it will also attempt to teach students how to handle environments in which they are bombarded with food options.
According to Barber, a key aspect of the sessions is to include interactive exercises in which students are shown healthier choices out of samples of common food items and to teach them to contend with their body images.
“We are surrounded by very indulgent food, and we’re also surrounded by messages of what our bodies are supposed to look like,” she said. “[At the sessions] we are going to talk about body
awareness and the role nutrition plays in it.”
For some nutritional experts, though, the usefulness of the programs is that it educates students about decisions they will be making all their life, rather than having them change their minds on the spot.
Robert Girandola, an associate professor in kinesiology who teaches a course on nutrition and exercise and a freshman seminar on body image, believes the program will be helpful because it targets students at ages where they should learn to make healthy choices.
“In terms of maintaining health, the two key factors are exercise, or the lack thereof, and good diet. From 18 to 24, you should be at the best possible health in your life. After that, it is downhill,” he said.
Girandola believes students need to learn not to deprive themselves of their favorite foods, but need to make sure they do not live entirely on them.
Roger Clemens, an adjunct professor of pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences and an expert in nutrition and the food industry, said learning to eat healthy would be beneficial for students in the long run, because it helps reduce personal costs, government costs and the general social burden of maintaining society’s health.
“It is important for everyone to make wiser choices,” Clemens said. “Improved food selection now will certainly improve health for later in life. Food selection is a lifetime investment.”
According to some students, though the aim of the nutritional campaign is positive, it will not necessarily cause people to change their mind.
Monet Hendricks, a freshman majoring in theatre, said she thinks the potential impact of the program is limited by the fact that eating habits are generally learned long before college.
“It would be beneficial for people who are set on changing their eating habits,” Hendricks said. “But for people who already know their eating habits, it would probably not be as beneficial.”
Hendricks added that people sometimes take the easier route even if they knew the food wasn’t healthy.
“Just because there is ice cream [at Parkside Restaurant], doesn’t mean you have to have ice cream.”
Kimberly Wong, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, believes that students have to make the personal choice to eat healthy even if they know what foods are good for them.
“The program is a good idea even if it does not work for everyone,” Wong said.