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Dining as Destiny
With age comes dietary wisdom
By Virginia Stuart '75, '80G

The modern dining hall is truly a sight to behold. At UNH's Holloway Commons, for example, students can pick and choose from a dizzying array of food. Surely no one should go hungry-or be malnourished. "But even in the land of plenty at Holloway Commons," notes Nutrition 400 instructor Jesse Stabile Morrell '99G, '04G, "students are not getting enough calcium, they're not getting enough iron, they're not getting enough fiber." She knows whereof she speaks. Data collected from nearly 800 students who took the course in the last year reveal the prevalence of dietary shortcomings and, in many cases, the physiological precursors to chronic disease and disability.

Since 2004, Nutrition 400 students have been gathering data on their own diet, blood lipid levels, height, weight, waist circumference, family history and habits. (Upper-level dietetics students assist with the labs as part of their field experiences.) Then the students, mostly freshmen and sophomores, analyze their own data, applying what they've learned about the nutritional, familial and physical factors that contribute to the development of diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

For some students the results hit home. "I am now truly convinced that smoking can't be in my life anymore," wrote one in an anonymous survey at the end of the course. Ruth Reilly '89G, '98G, clinical assistant professor of animal and nutritional sciences, believes this is a particularly good stage in life for these lessons to be learned. "Research shows that in late adolescence students begin to recognize that they're not invincible," she explains. "The critical thinking skills are there, but most don't have the data."

Now students in the course, which is taken by roughly 40 percent of all undergrads, are getting that data-and collectively providing a snapshot of the UNH population. The picture is a little disheartening, both literally and figuratively. One out of three is overweight or obese, for example, and more than half the men have high blood pressure. Both the UNH Office of Sustainability and Dining Services hope to use this information to find ways to help students make better choices.

Sophomore Stephanie Meyers, whose mother has high blood pressure, is trying to eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods-a challenging task for an apartment dweller who makes her own meals. The course has also inspired her to consider a career as a nutritionist. She likes the idea of helping others learn what she learned in Nutrition 400: "You can really change your destiny."

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