June 8, 2009
Metropolitan State University of Denver
Nutrition majors to do lunch in Mexico
Imagine traveling to another country specifically to shop at open air markets, cook and eat with the people of that region. This type of trip is an example of the first-hand experience nutrition majors will soon have access to in the Human Nutrition and Dietetics Program at Metropolitan State College of Denver.
The program recently received a $260,000 USDA Higher Education Challenge Grant to enhance cultural competency regarding the Latino population among human nutrition and dietetics majors.
Cultural competency is important for nutrition students who need to understand food traditions, health issues and the Spanish language to better serve the growing Latino population, according to Professor of Nutrition Cindy Heiss.
“The Latino population in the U.S. is growing and it’s an underserved population concerning health care," she adds.
The project includes the development of a certificate program in collaboration with Metro State’s Chicana/o Studies Department, a cultural immersion program in Mexico and a plan to recruit Latino students to the human nutrition and dietetics major.
The Latino population is at higher risk for diabetes, obesity and heart disease. However, according to Heiss, the population often does not get adequate help with these problems because of a language barrier when trying to learn about proper nutrition from a dietitian who speaks English only, or because typical therapeutic diets do not include traditional foods from the culture.
By developing a Latino culture immersion program alongside the certificate program, students will increase their Spanish language skills and learn about the Latino culture so that they can be more effective in providing nutritional care to this population. The immersion program in Mexico will be open to students and professionals from across the country.
The project also includes the development of a plan to recruit Latino students to the human nutrition and dietetics major. This aspect of the grant complements Metro State’s goal of becoming a Hispanic Serving Institute (HSI), says Heiss, adding that only 3 percent of registered dietitians are Latino, and few dietitians speak Spanish. A study will be conducted to determine why Latinos do or do not consider dietetics as a career, and a specific recruitment plan will be developed from the results.
“Our students can be educated to be more culturally aware so they can better meet the needs of the Latino population,” Heiss says. “The ultimate goal of this project is improve the nutritional care of the Latino community.”