Cut the fat from GEs and add nutritional education

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The numbers are in. The rate of obesity has doubled since the 1970s, and it’s getting worse. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine predicts a 33 percent increase in the rate of obesity by throughout the next two decades, and even worse, a 130 percent spike in severe obesity rates (a body mass index greater than 35).  Translation: unhealthy will soon be the new norm.

That is, unless something changes.

Universities have the opportunity, power and responsibility to do something about the sorry state of nutrition education in America. College is meant to be more than a vocational training camp. Instead, it’s meant to prepare us for success in the real world.

By integrating a basic nutrition course into general education requirements, universities can help produce a generation of people with a better understanding of food and health. This is when we can start to reverse the unhealthy trends currently plaguing the modern American diet.

Certified Diabetes Educator and Registered Dietitian Kathryn Ferraro agrees that a basic education in nutrition is vital to all students. Freshman year is the time to drop this nutritional knowledge, according to Ferraro.

After 18 years of being fed (hopefully) balanced meals by mom and dad, freshmen become responsible for feeding themselves for the first time. On top of that, every type of junk food imaginable is made available on campus 24/7.

With all of this newfound freedom and temptation, a baseline of nutritional knowledge is necessary for healthy decision-making. That’s where the general education class Contemporary Nutrition steps in to save the day. While the science-like name may scare away some, the class is actually geared more toward the lifestyle side of nutrition as opposed to the clinical side. This course is already offered at SDSU as an upper-division general education option, although it currently is not a required course. According to Ferraro, this non-major elective actually gets great student responses.

“It gives a lot of real-life applications of nutrition science concepts,” Ferraro said. “Instead of just talking about carbohydrates or vitamins, we put them into practice, comparing foods students are familiar with.”

Why students should care

Well, students should care for a lot of reasons, really. Reasons they can learn if they take the class (which they should). But the No. 1 reason is this–knowledge is power.

“Studying nutrition science makes you a smarter consumer and helps you to sort through so much of the marketing hype that surrounds food and nutrition and make real, educated decisions for yourself based on science, not commercials,” Ferraro said.

Given the number of food-related decisions we all face each day, it’s crucial we know what it all means.

Why SDSU should care

It’s the right thing to do. If the university is going to give us every opportunity to make unhealthy food decisions on campus, the least they can do is encourage us to learn about consequences of making those decisions. Plus, since we all have to take other general education classes where we learn stuff we’ll never need in real life, why not balance it with some relevant courses? I’m pretty sure I’ll never have to identify an isotope again, but knowing the difference between saturated and monounsaturated fat? Now that’s something I can actually use.

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