When you think of food on college campuses what comes to mind? For most of us we probably picture dorms with cafeterias offering mystery meat burgers, pizza, corn dogs, fries and soda dispensers. But George Fox University decided it wanted to change all of that.
George Fox is located just outside of Portland in Oregon’s growing wine country. The campus has a 14:1 student to faculty ratio, helping the 4,000 plus students form a tight-knit community.
During a commencement speech a few years ago, alumnus Kent Thornburg, Ph.D. discussed his work with the emerging field of science showing how our environment before birth and during the first years of life establishes risk for developing chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. This work, known as the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD), also shows how chronic disease risk is passed from one generation to the next and why our population is now experiencing such increasing rates of these diseases.
George Fox leadership decided to implement this work into its curriculum and campus culture in a way that helped students develop and maintain healthy eating behaviors. And thus the Nutrition Matters program was conceived. The university applied for and received a four-year grant to develop and implement a sustainable program.
They started by overhauling the curriculum in a class required of all freshmen. The lifelong fitness class offered an easy way to reach all students with the nutrition message. Students receive regular science-based lectures on the importance of nutrition in affecting lifelong health. The university purchased a BOD POD to offer students, faculty and staff accurate body composition analysis, but made sure to screen for potential issues like eating disorders or compulsive exercisers and offer counseling services. The body composition analysis along with a survey at the beginning and end of the semester to measure awareness and behavior change will be used to measure change in students over successive years.
The university wanted to do more than influence individual behavior change, knowing that these changes are unlikely to be maintained if not reinforced through the broader environment. To weave the message into the campus culture, university leadership decided to engage the campus food service provider.
Bon Appetit had already been working to incorporate more scratch cooking and fewer processed products. They eagerly embraced overhauling the menu to incorporate more whole foods and healthier preparations of foods. Cafeteria trays were ditched to encourage students to be more thoughtful in their initial food selections, and as an added bonus ended up reducing food waste by almost 25 percent. Digital signage was put in the cafeteria to reinforce nutrition messages from the lifelong fitness class and highlight nutritional information of the foods available.
The next step for the university is to develop science-based nutrition curriculum for all of its health majors. Teaching students now who will become the next generation of health care professionals will continue to broaden the reach of this material.
Allowing the program to develop naturally has seen many ripple effects, including the creation of student internships to create nutrition-related campus events like cooking demonstrations, research projects developed using the data collected from the program, the creation of a kitchen equipment lending program and a health and wellness week event incorporating nutrition information.
George Fox has built the messages into its ongoing academics in a way that won’t require external funding to keep it going. The hope is to serve as an example of what can be done on college campuses and to ultimately be able to share the Nutrition Matters materials with other institutions.
Note: This article is adapted from a longer piece originally published on the OHSU Moore Institute website.
Take a food tour of campus
Is there a college or university near you? Take a walk one day and see what it’s like. What kinds of restaurants are there? What’s in the vending machines? What kinds of food are available in the student union? Or have a conversation with a child, friend or neighbor attending college about their food choices while on campus. How do you think it compares to college campus from 20 years ago? 40 years ago?
Get kids in the kitchen
Adolescent kids at home? Get them in the kitchen! Make sure your kids or grandkids know basic kitchen skills and how to cook simple healthy meals before they leave home. It will set them up for a lifetime of good health, and make them a sought after roommate!
Improve school nutrition
Do you work for a school? From food service providers to principals and presidents, we can all find a way to influence nutrition on school campuses. Teachers and professors can find ways to include nutrition in their curriculum. Leaders can support students, employees and staff when they bring ideas to improve the nutritional culture. Food service providers can find healthier methods for preparing foods and can push for healthier options from food suppliers.