As a registered dietitian, I’m a big proponent of nutrition education for kids and adults alike. MyPlate On Campus, USDA’s initiative that promotes healthy eating on college campuses through peer-to-peer education, is a unique effort to reach young adults during a key life stage. The program now boasts over 2,300 MyPlate On Campus Ambassadors who inspire and promote healthy food habits at universities and colleges nationwide. Read below about how one North Carolina campus brings MyPlate to life for their students:
Guest post by Courtney Simmons, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN, Campus Dietitian, and Jessica Jones, Peer Educator, Health Promotion, University of North Carolina Wilmington
College – a time of transition, not only in an academic sense, but also in a personal “taking charge of your own health” sense. Most first year students are thinking about all the choices they get to make without guardian oversight, including their food choices! They can now choose what and when to eat and drink for themselves. Mom and Dad are no longer telling them to “stop with the junk food,” “clean the plate,” or “eat their veggies”. Although this seems like the ultimate dream come true and the bells of freedom are ringing, students without the knowledge and skills to make healthy food choices may not be getting all the nutrients their bodies need to stay healthy!
At the University of North Carolina Wilmington, the Health Promotion Peer Educators are ready to step in and make a difference! Our Peer Educators play a unique role in connecting with the students since they are often seen as less intimidating than professional staff. In their role they help the students and Seahawk Community get excited about healthy eating and develop responsible lifestyles regarding wellness and nutrition. Led by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and a Health Educator, our eleven Peer Educators learn and present nutrition programs that have been created based on research, trends, and the needs of our student body. Additionally, each Peer Educator completes the MyPlate On Campus Ambassador training module. This gives them the resources and confidence they need to educate their fellow Seahawks with credible nutrition information based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
In an emerging culture of technology, social media, fad diets, and nutrition misinformation, our Peer Educators help to set the record straight! To get our students excited about nutrition, we use MyPlate, SuperTracker, and the MyPlate on Campus Toolkit. Our Peer Educators are invited into classrooms, residence halls, fraternities, sororities, and student organizations to share their knowledge through interactive nutrition programs. Every presentation begins with a brief overview of ChooseMyPlate.gov and explains how the information can be easily accessed in just a few clicks. We also incorporate the MyPlate icon and key messages from the Dietary Guidelines into our programs in fun ways that the students love. One of our most popular programs, the MyPlate Challenge, is held in the dining hall. Students can win prizes for visiting our table with a MyPlate-inspired meal they’ve assembled that includes all five food groups! The students are able to apply what they have learned about MyPlate in a mealtime setting and the Peer Educators enjoy rewarding them for making healthier and more balanced choices; a win-win!
The Peer Educators at UNCW are excited about spreading nutrition knowledge using MyPlate. We want to be the healthiest Seahawks we can be!