Nutrition student teaches healthy eating habits to community in Ecuador

Dec. 11, 2013

Watching a student become a teacher is a teacher’s best reward.

So says Alice Ammerman, DrPH, professor of nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and director of the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP).

parker_cate_ecuador

Cate Parker, with her students in Ecuador

Ammerman recently heard from Cate Parker, her former student in Nutrition 245, “Sustainable, Local Foods and Public Health.” The course, co-developed and co-taught by Ammerman and Molly De Marco, PhD, research fellow and project director at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, which Ammerman directs, was offered through the Carolina Center for Public Service’s APPLES Service-Learning Program.

Parker, who earned a double major in global studies and geography at UNC, is now program director for Manna Project International, a holistic community development nonprofit organization based near Quito, Ecuador.

Parker’s work, focused on preventive health, includes teaching four nutrition classes to 145 sixth- and tenth-graders – challenging work, she says, that she “absolutely loves.” She wrote to Ammerman and De Marco to let them know how she was sharing with her students the knowledge she acquired from her UNC coursework.

“I really enjoyed your class,” Parker wrote, “and just wanted you to know how far the information has spread.”

There is no standard nutrition curriculum in Ecuador, Parker said, so her class is likely the only nutrition education the children receive.

“Previously, the class had been taught using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s somewhat outdated food pyramid models,” Parker said. “We gave a quiz at the beginning of the semester, and it was shocking to learn how skewed these kids’ nutritional beliefs are – especially in a country with such an abundance of fresh and healthy food.”

Parker redesigned the curriculum, basing it on the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate and the work she had done in Nutrition 245.

She and fellow students had used the Healthy Eating Plate concept to develop a class presentation for employees of Weaver Street Market, a cooperative grocery in Carrboro, N.C., that sells local, sustainable foods.

“The employees of the market tend to have varying degrees of knowledge about nutrition,” Parker said. “Our presentation allowed them to learn some new information and become better able to educate their customers.”

In her classroom in Ecuador, Parker teaches the basics of the Healthy Eating Plate (whole grains, healthy proteins, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and water) and then covers topics such as the importance of learning about nutrition as a young person, the value of learning to cook, the connection between food and the environment, and ways to make healthier substitutions for traditional ingredients in Ecuadorian recipes.

“It is always heartwarming to hear about the good things our students are doing with the knowledge they gained from our courses,” Ammerman said. “We’re proud of all Cate is accomplishing in her classroom.”
 
APPLES Service-Learning is a student-led program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that transforms educational experiences by connecting academic learning and public service. Since 1990, APPLES has strengthened civic engagement by bringing together students, faculty and communities in sustained and mutually beneficial partnerships. In 2009, APPLES became a program of the University’s Carolina Center for Public Service. The collaboration and structure has strengthened the organization as it offers more resources and support for faculty, students and community partners.


Share

Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu