Oct 17, 2019

Dietetic interns aim to improve student nutrition with weight loss challenge

Registered dietician to be Jennifer Ruiz is handing out
information on studying tips and which foods to consume
for better concentration during finals week last semester
at the “brain food” mobile wellness booth.
Photo courtesy of Renee Ingalls

The Health Center will sponsor a nutrition-oriented challenge to educate students on how to eat and cook, utilizing proper nutrition.

The challenge will also emphasize proper exercise.

The “Weight Loss Challenge” will cover topics such as vitamin and mineral deficiencies, weight management, diabetes, hyperglycemia, hypertension and cholesterol.

The challenge is open to all interested students and is free of charge. For more information, students may attend drop-in counseling any Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or the designated informational meeting at 10 a.m. on Feb. 27 in the Health Center.

Jennifer Ruiz, Renee Ingles and Jacky Barcal are organizing the program. The three are interns and will soon become registered dieticians.

The Weight Loss Challenge will consist of a weekly check-in and individual counseling.  Weight loss will be gauged on a percentage of loss in order to ensure an even playing field for the participants.

Elizabeth Ferris, a nutrition professor and registered dietician, said the program would involve body fat testing at the beginning and end.  The interns will also take waist circumference measurements and keep track of participants’ overall weight.

The dieticians will ask the participants questions to tailor the program to individual needs, such as,  “What are your challenges? Do you need healthy snack ideas? Do you need ideas on how to fit fitness into your day?” Ferrris said.

The program will emphasize the needs of the individual in the challenge.  Specific diet plans will be developed and monitored for each participant.

“We can really help them with whatever they want,” Ruiz said. “If they want help with health recipes or how to cook, we can help them with that … we are here to help them with their goals.”

Upon completion of the program, a total percentage of weight lost for each participant will be calculated, and the student with the greatest percentage of weight loss will win an Apple iPad.  The two runners-up will each receive an iPod Touch.

The interns will deal with common goals of college students, such as tone for females, and muscle-mass building for males.

“There is not one weight loss thing; there are goals that are common in the college student,” Ferris said. “A goal for a lot of the women is to lose weight or maintain their weight.  Maybe a goal for the guys is to build more muscle or get better performance out of their gym workout.”

The program began with a grant from Aetna, a company that promotes health and access to high-quality health care. This funding has provided the financial resources to continue the program, as well as to do outreach to students in the dorms.

“This was the third Aetna grant that we received, so we have received just over $100,000,” said Kathleen Yarmo, the coordinator of health promotion and wellness services. “One of the aims of Aetna in general is to reduce health disparities.

“It just made sense with our registered dietician internship program on campus that we decided to collaborate with food science and nutrition.”

The program has produced positive results in the past with few counseling sessions.  As little as one session has aided in students’ health goals.

“It’s amazing what you can get out of one session … a lot of small changes over time add up,” Ruiz said. “It’s not doing a big overhaul …we don’t want people to come, try it, make a bunch of changes and not be able to stick to them.  We want to give them things they can do for the long term.

“One example would be cutting down soda consumption … if you cut down 100 calories every day, you can lose a pound a month,” Ferris said. “I don’t think people think about the amount of calories in the foods or beverages they consume.”

If a student cannot participate in the challenge, but would like to improve nutritional knowledge, classes dealing with nutrition conducted by dietetic interns start Feb. 13 and end Apr. 23 at the Health Center conference room.

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