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Improving Student's Eating Habits

November 16, 2012

Karen Fiorenza nutrtion west chester university

It's well known that college students often have poor eating habits, but research shows the more they learn about proper nutrition the more likely they are to develop healthy eating patterns. And, as WCU's own nutritionist knows, the key to developing effective programming around nutrition is student input.

Now in her 12th year at the University, Karen Fiorenza has what she calls her staple of nutrition-related programs, including weight loss classes, eating disorder groups, and the diabetes education support group. But, she notes, it's the questions students pose about nutrition that help guide her decisions about what programming to offer. Currently, in fact, she and members of the Student Dietetic Association are working on a campus-wide nutrition needs assessment, which will help Fiorenza plan for additional programming.

"The students majoring in nutrition and I work together on a number of projects," says Fiorenza, "and I rely on them to spread the word among their peers about our programs."

Fiorenza also works closely with the University's food service, Aramark, which recently put together a demonstration on healthy options at exam time. Recipes and samples of such snacks as baked kale chips, hummus, peanut butter and veggie dips were arranged at the entrance to the main dining hall for students to sample.

"We're trying to help students not fall into the sugar and caffeine trap that can happen when they're stressing about final exams," explains Fiorenza."Baked kale chips are a delicious alternative to potato chips and easy to prepare," she adds.

In the spring semester, Fiorenza and one of Aramark's chefs will prepare a new dish every week at lunchtime in the middle of the dining room. "To encourage students to try these different recipes, we plan to have prizes for students who try these new dishes throughout the 16 weeks of the semester."

One of the challenges most college nutritionists face, says Fiorenza, is the "all-you-can-eat" scenario in the dining hall where so much food and so many options are available.

"College dining halls are not just where students eat, but where they socialize," notes Fiorenza. "Even if they're not necessarily hungry, they may continue to eat while they hang out with their friends."

Besides advising students in person, Fiorenza provides dozens of healthy tips on the nutrition web site, from foods to keep on hand in the dorm to explanations about the risks and benefits of carbohydrates, different types of fats, sodium and calcium.

The nutrition site also includes information on sports nutrition, coping with or preventing diabetes, eating disorders, a "food of the week," a link to Fiorenza herself, entitled, "Ask the Nutritionist," and a nutrition Facebook page.

"The only way to keep in touch with students is to keep up with the times," says Fiorenza. "When I started here, we weren't as internet-based as we are today. Now I have my own web page, Facebook page, and Twitter account." Soon, she claims, she will be creating informational videos with the help of the Digital Media Center.

"If I'm to be effective, I have to constantly find new ways to reach out to students," she says.

Visit WCU's Nutrition Services webpage for more details.