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COLLEGE IS A PIVOTAL TIME OF INTELLECTUAL GROWTH, but for too many students, it’s also a time when healthy eating becomes secondary. “Many college students are away from home and managing food purchasing and meal preparation independently for the first time,” says Dr. Dena Herman, an adjunct associate professor in FSPH’s Department of Community Health Sciences who serves as faculty advisor to the Public Health Nutrition Club and director of the FSPH-based Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Nutrition Leadership Training Program, funded since 1993 by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “These students may lack the knowledge and skills to prepare healthy, inexpensive meals.”
Believing that food and nutrition literacy needed to be a greater part of campus life, the student-led Public Health Nutrition Club was founded in 2012 by a cohort of MCH nutrition trainees as a way for its members to help their fellow students eat better. “One of the goals of the club is to provide students with tools to prepare healthy food for themselves, even if they’re extremely busy with school or on a tight budget,” says Meghan O’Connell, a second-year MPH student who serves as vice president of the Public Health Nutrition Club and plans to pursue a career in sustainable food systems.
In addition to advocating for nutrition issues and raising awareness through a monthly seminar series addressing public health nutrition and policy topics, the club has begun offering students Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes filled with fresh, locally grown organic fruits and vegetables at an affordable price. The club also emphasizes improving student food literacy through quarterly cooking demonstrations at various campus locations in partnership with local farmers markets and other student organizations, supported in part by funding from the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative. Through the demonstrations, the Public Health Nutrition Club teaches easy-to-prepare, healthy recipes utilizing accessible and inexpensive seasonal ingredients. “By making shopping and cooking simpler and less expensive for students,” O’Connell says, “we are not only aiding students in eating healthier, but building links between the campus community and local farmers that will help build a more sustainable food system at UCLA.”