April 9, 2004

VUSN expands nutrition courses to meet student demand

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Matt Hall

VUSN expands nutrition courses to meet student demand

More than 200 undergraduate students have elected to take the “Introductory Nutrition” course offered by the School of Nursing, the largest numbers the school has seen since it began offering the course nearly a decade ago.

Interest in the course has been so great that VUSN added a new nutrition course, “Nutrition and Health: Issues and Insights,” to meet the demands of students, who asked for a follow-up course and an advanced nutrition class.

The new course was offered for the first time during the spring semester and currently more than 90 students are enrolled. Jamie Pope, M.S., a registered dietitian, teaches the new course and shares teaching duties for the two-hour “Introductory Nutrition” course at VUSN, which she said has been increasing in popularity every year.

“We had 27 students that first fall and it just started growing and growing. This semester we had to turn students away,” Pope said.

She said the vast majority of students in both nutrition classes have opted to take the courses as electives, and come from all backgrounds of study across the Vanderbilt campus.

“We have economics students, art history students, engineering students, but they seem to have some interest in nutrition and how it applies to their health,” she said.

So what exactly is it that has the masses of undergraduates clamoring to get into a nutrition course at the School of Nursing? Pope said there are several reasons.

“Some come because they needed a two-hour elective, some come because of word of mouth, but I think there’s some genuine interest in the subject matter of nutrition here,” Pope said.

The two-hour “Introductory Nutrition” course is a prerequisite for students to enter the “bridge” program at VUSN, which allows students with a non-nursing background the opportunity to earn a master’s degree in Nursing, but Pope said the majority of students in the class have chosen it as an elective.

The classes also draw students from Peabody College at Vanderbilt, as both of VUSN’s nutrition courses meet science requirements for their students.

Whatever the motive may be, Pope is determined to take advantage of the large, captive audience of undergraduates who are historically known to have poor eating habits and could benefit from any nutrition advice

“I want them to be more aware of their own personal habits and how they might impact their health now and in the future,” said Pope. Senior Ryan McCostlin, enrolled in Pope’s new nutrition course, is applying to public health schools and thought some background in nutrition would help him.

“Our generation is more educated on the impact of nutrition than our parents and grandparents were. Evidence of that is everywhere if you look at magazine stands,” he said.

In a recent assignment, Pope had McCostlin and his classmates keep a record of everything they ate and drank and evaluate how they could make improvements. McCostlin said he was surprised to see his eating habits on paper.

“It was disheartening. I thought I ate better than I did. I found I ate horribly.”

Junior Nathan Ryall said the assignment was a wake-up call for him, too. “I ingest more sodium than I expected. I go over on carbs,” Ryall said.

Pope said despite nutrition information being more prominent than ever before, students are still in the dark on some important issues. During a recent lecture, Pope asked students if they knew their own cholesterol level. It was no surprise to Pope that no one could answer.

Pope told the crowd that atherosclerosis, or coronary heart disease, begins in childhood and progresses with age, and that an estimated 30 percent of all American adults have elevated cholesterol levels.

Lifestyle alone can drop cholesterol levels by as much as 50 points. She turned the students to a Web site that would help them track and calculate their risk for heart disease in their lifetime, and encouraged them to find out their own cholesterol level through Student Health Services.

Pope says she hopes the time she spends with the students each week will do some good and stay with them over the years.

“These eating habits will stay with them into adulthood. If I can send them away from here with a little more awareness, core knowledge, some credible Web sites, and some good information, we’re on the right track.”