Science of healthy foods subject of grant aimed at university students

COLLEGE STATION They've no doubt been told about healthful eating, but college students at three major universities now will get hands-on training to help them spread the word. A $500,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant will enable researchers at Texas A&M University, Iowa State University and Ohio University to develop a multi-discipline approach to undergraduate education on foods for health.

"Our goal is to develop a new course on the science of food for health," said Dr. Bhimu Patil, director of the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center at Texas A&M and project director. "It is a unique course because the work will include the examination of phytochemicals and antioxidants that are just now coming to the forefront."

Patil cited citrus as an example of a fruit that may be used in a food-processing lab to show students how to isolate and analyze phytochemicals . Those phytochemicals might then be examined in a medical/nutrition research lab to determine which diseases may be prevented through consumption of that food.

The first stage of the grant will gather 28 faculty members from the three universities to develop the curriculum. They will include fruit and vegetable production experts, medical researchers, nutritionists and food scientists. Next, 20 students will be taught the new curriculum which will include hands-on training. Those students then will experience lab work at each of the universities and in each of the disciplines, Patil explained.

"Our hope is that these students can be used to train high school teachers and provide them with good scientific information which they can then teach high school students," Patil said. "That would ultimately lead to getting the younger kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, we believe."

Patil said the project began with a national survey of college students who responded that such a course was needed.

"Because the students will get to go to the three universities and use a variety of equipment, the undergraduates may have their eyes opened to careers that are possible with advanced degrees," he said. Students also will be provided summer internships in related industry.

"We expect to attract students to careers in research and community health education," Patil said.

The three-year project is in the planning stages, and the hands-on training with college students is expected to take place in the summer 2007.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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