You Going to Eat That?

Students partner with peers to encourage healthy choices

By Hal Jacobs

As All-American swimmers on Emory’s national championship swimming and diving team, Kylie McKenzie 14C and Brooke Woodward 13C know the importance of fueling their bodies with the right food. But when they first came to Emory four years ago, they never imagined they would become advocates for healthy eating on campus.

After three years of academic course work in human health, however, McKenzie (a biology major) and Woodward (an anthropology major) are coleaders in a pilot Healthy Eating Partners program that reaches out to first-year students during peak dining hours in the Dobbs University Center (DUC) dining hall. Thanks to an upper-level nutrition course, six upperclassmen partners can point out where one should look for the majority of their calories, talk about the value of organic food over the processed stuff, delve into the science of nutrition, and gather feedback from students for sharing with the Campus Dining staff. They can discuss the pros and cons of garbanzo beans and grilled chicken over pizza and French fries, fresh fruit over Trix cereal.

“It’s definitely a passion I’ve discovered at Emory,” says Woodward, who foresees nutrition playing a big role in her future.

Two college students at buffet with fresh vegetables

veg out: Senior Kylie McKenzie (left) and recent grad Brooke Woodward are part of a pilot program created to help first-year students avoid the notorious “freshman fifteen” by eating well.

Kay Hinton

Her roommate McKenzie agrees that the extra hours—on top of swim team and other extracurriculars—have been worth it. “It’s really been fun to work together with students and dining services staff in this area. It definitely makes you appreciate what it takes to run something like this, to provide meals for so many people.”

Cosponsored by the Center for the Study of Human Health and Emory Dining, the program illustrates a growing emphasis on the part of Emory College to apply academics in the real world to make positive changes.

“It’s gone fabulously well as a pilot,” says Jill Welkley, associate professor of psychology, who has worked closely with Tricia Simonds, registered dietitian and senior lecturer, and Michelle Lampl, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Anthropology, to develop the program as an extension of the Peer Health Partner program, where upperclassmen receive intensive academic training before leading first-year students in Health 100 classes.

“A focus on health in the undergraduate curriculum reflects Emory’s preeminence in the science of health,” says Lampl, director of the Center for the Study of Human Health. “And health is more than the absence of disease—it’s more about well-being and healthy behaviors.” She is enthusiastic about students having conversations that focus on food and exercise, especially during a time when they are building behavior patterns for the rest of their lives.

“Wherever our students’ careers take them, we believe that the human health program provides an understanding from which they can make informed decisions for themselves, their families, and their communities in the future,” she says.

And Emory Dining couldn’t be more pleased. “The Healthy Eating Partners Program brings to life an important component of our Emory Dining vision—to provide the campus community with important information about how menu choices affect personal health,” notes Dave Furhman, senior director of University Food Service Administration. “The Healthy Eating Partners Program does an exceptional job by providing peer-to-peer partnering in making choices.”

When McKenzie looks back at her four years at Emory, she’s amazed at how much human health students have done to create a more positive culture at Emory. “It’s been awesome to contribute to that,” she says.

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