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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Do Undergraduate Students Make Any Health or Lifestyle Changes After Taking a Health Class?

As a professor of Nutrition and Child Health and Nutrition classes for undergraduates, I am always curious if the students not only learn the material as shown by the grade they learn in the course, but do they apply what they have learned to their own health habits and lifestyle?   So I decided to ask students at the end of every class if they have made health or lifestyle changes as a result of taking the undergraduate class.  The responses are very interesting as to the changes each student has made.  Below are some of the health and nutrition issues we cover in the health class.

  1. Whole Grains – MyPlate (which replaced the Food Pyramid) stresses at least half our grains be whole grains.  Yet, not only do many Americans eat few or no whole grains, many do not even know what foods are whole grain.
  2. Fruits and VegetablesMyPlate notes half our plate should be fruits and vegetables.  But another way to ensure one is getting enough fruits and vegetables is to focus on 5 A Day.   Many students are actually surprised to learn they should be eating a minimum of 5 fruits and vegetables a day.  When I say one should have 2 servings of fruits/vegetables at a meal, they are shocked as many don’t have any
  3. Added sugar – so many Americans get way too much added sugar in our diets.  When we discuss serving children 100% fruit juice, a lot of students confuse fruit drinks with fruit juice.
  4. Dairy – MyPlate shows a serving of milk or dairy at every meal.  Many children aren’t drinking milk at every meal and many students start the class with little or no dairy foods in their diet.
  5. Exercise – we talk a lot about how important exercise is every day for children and for adults.
  6. Reading Food Labels – to ensure one is eating more whole grains and foods with less added sugar, one needs to read food labels and many students have started to do so.

So what are some of the nutrition and health topics covered and how have students changed their health habits by applying what they have learned?  Some comments students made about their health and lifestyle changes:
A few months before I started this class I changed my whole diet, started working out everyday, and just  tried to be just generally healthy. As we progressed throughout the semester I realized I wasn't eating as healthy as I thought. I was having almost absolutely no grains (now replaced by oatmeal every morning and whole wheat bread with tuna salad as snack) and I almost eliminated dairy out of my diet because I thought it was to fattening (now I drink 1% milk and reduced fat cheeses

I have realized that I do not eat enough vegetables at all. I have started to make an effort to eat more vegetables and have switched to buying whole grain bread

I now drink more milk, started reading food labels for the first ingredient, switched to whole grains, and added more fruits and vegetables, and taken out all fruit drinks and switched to fruit juice. 

I drink milk at every meal.

This class had really taught me the importance of keeping my body healthy.  I have cut back on a lot of the fast foods and I am eating a whole lot more fruits and veggies.  When grocery shopping I actually read food labels now to try to determine the healthiest choice.

I didn’t know the food pyramid went away and was replaced by MyPlate. 

The main lifestyle change I have made was to stop drinking sugared soda completely.  I now try to drink milk and 100% fruit juices. 

After this class, I learned you should have at least 5 fruits and vegetables every day.  Therefore, I began to incorporate that.  Also, I try and drink a glass of milk at every meal or during a snack.  Finally, I have tried to cut out sugary soda drinks and replace them with 100% fruit juices (they taste better anyway!)

My whole family has started eating more fruits and vegetables.  We try to make better eating choices at dinner by getting everyone involved in meal planning.  We have also cut back on foods with added sugar. 

I have stopped drinking sodas, I am always checking the labels to make sure “sugar” is not the first thing listed.  Orange juice now in the morning.  More milk, more physical activity.  When visiting fast food restaurants I now decide on side salads, juice box, apple slices.  I have started packing my lunches. 

It would be great to be able to follow up on these students a year or more from now to see if the “lifestyle” and health changes have continued.  But it is rewarding to see all the many health changes students have made as a result of taking an undergraduate health class. 

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