Nutrition and dietetics students share healthy eating habits with community youth

Contact: Chris Hybels

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Through the Michigan GEAR UP summer camp, high school students participating in the West Michigan Health Career Pipeline Program (HCPP) had the opportunity to come to campus for six days to experience life at Western Michigan University. While on campus, students spent time with the Colleges of Education and Human Development and Health and Human Services learning about different career options in health, including nutrition and dietetics. Through different activities, graduate students and faculty from the nutrition and dietetics program taught students about added sugars, healthier alternatives and the importance of reading nutrition labels.

The West Michigan Health Career Pipeline Program aims to increase the number of highly qualified health and human service professionals from underrepresented and minority populations by mentoring high school students from those groups. Supported by a partnership between the WMU College of Health and Human Services, Corewell Health (formerly Spectrum Health) and the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, students enrolled the program are partnered with college mentors. Mentors are undergraduate students from health and human service programs and discuss their own experiences and help students work towards those careers.

"We are introducing the students within this health field to get a little piece of information as to what nutrition is and dietitians do just so they can have a little piece of what Western has to offer to incoming students," says Migdalia Martinez, a master's student in the nutrition and dietetics program.

WMU students and faculty discussed the field and led participants in activities focusing on healthier habits, such as understanding the amount of sugar added to drinks. 

"We had the participants estimate how much sugar they think is in certain beverages like soda, chocolate milk and orange juice," says Meghan Wilkinson, faculty specialist II in the nutrition and dietetics program. "Students would measure out using teaspoons to figure out how much sugar they think is in the beverage."

After the exercise, HCPP participants were able to make healthy drink options that didn't require added sugar.

"Students were able to rethink their drink choice and make an inventive beverage using sparkling water, natural fruits and different mint and basil leaves. It was an easy introduction into natural sugars and an opportunity for them to have fun while creating an alternative to sugary drinks," says Martinez.

Afterwards, participants listened to Westerm students share their knowledge on understanding what information is on a nutrition label. This activity among others from the day allowed for WMU students to practice educating the community as they would upon entering the workforce as a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN).

"Our students are using their professional training and knowledge to help other people," says Dr. Ping Ouyang, assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics. "It is very important for the younger generations to learn nutrition, because everyone eats several times each day and we just have our one body for our whole life." 

ABOUT Health careers pipeline program

The Health Careers Pipeline Program (HCPP) represents a partnership with the WMU College of Health and Human Services, Spectrum Health and the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. The program is directed at high school students from underrepresented and minority populations, with the ultimate goal of increasing the number of highly qualified health and human service professionals from those groups. HCPP is a seven-week mentorship program, centered on health career exploration, college readiness and leadership development, for underrepresented and minority ninth- and 10th-grade high school students from urban and rural communities in the West Michigan region. To learn more, visit the Health Careers Pipeline Program website.

ABOUT nutrition and dietetics at wmu

Dietitians are nutrition experts who apply the science of food and nutrition to settings in medicine, community health, wellness, and food service operations. WMU programs in nutrition and dietetics prepare students who desire to become a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) or nutrition and dietitian technician registered (DTR). Both WMU programs are recognized by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). To learn more, visit the nutrition and dietetics program website.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.