Public health school to debut undergraduate nutrition major

Media Credit: Keegan Mullen | Staff Photographer

Allison Sylvetsky Meni, an assistant professor of exercise and nutrition sciences who created the curriculum for the major, will serve as the director of the new program.

The public health school is launching a new program dedicated to teaching students about how eating habits impact overall health.

The Milken Institute School of Public Health will begin an undergraduate program in nutritional sciences this fall after three years of planning. Although the school already offers an exercise science major and electives in nutrition, officials said having a full-scale program will cater to students who want to study one of the most universal areas of public health.

Nutrition sciences will be the third undergraduate major offered in the public health school, joining public health and exercise science, according to the website.

“Individuals as well as the population, everyone can relate to nutrition.”

Allison Sylvetsky Meni, an assistant professor of exercise and nutrition sciences, will serve as the director of the new program. Meni, who worked on creating the curriculum that will comprise the major, said starting the major has long been a passion project of several professors because nutrition is such a vital part of life and human health.

“It is so central to our health and disease and prevention,” she said. “Individuals as well as the population, everyone can relate to nutrition.”

The introduction of the major comes as obesity remains a pressing public health issue in the United States. Nearly 40 percent of American adults are obese, a number that has grown significantly in the past decade, according to The New York Times.

There will be seven new courses at the core of the major, covering topics like how nutrition impacts chronic diseases, the different professions that relate to the nutrition field, research methods and nutrition across the life cycle. A senior capstone project and two introductory courses will also be a part of the program.

The public health school has focused on nutrition in a new seminar series this spring dedicated to exploring ways to reduce sugar consumption, an effort Meni helped organize. The medical school has also taken an interest in diet, starting a new elective class last fall on culinary medicine.

Although the program has yet to officially launch, 25 undergraduates have already declared nutrition sciences to be their new major beginning next academic year, Meni said. Incoming freshmen and transfers from other GW schools can also enroll in the new program.

Several professors who specialize in areas relating to nutrition worked with her to create the major, she added.

Kim Robien, an associate professor of exercise and nutrition sciences, said hiring for the new courses – which she described as the hardest part of the process – will begin soon.

Four years ago, the public health school began offering a nutrition program for graduate students, but Robien said the plan was always to offer the major to undergraduates as well once the master’s program was settled.

“It had always been a plan – We just didn’t want to take on two new programs at the same time,” she said. “We’ve worked out all its kinks, and we are ready then to start the undergraduate program.”

Michael Long, an assistant professor of prevention and community health, said students have asked for a nutrition science major, which many other public health schools offer, for the last several years.

“Nutrition is one of the topics that should be included in all of the other important discussions that students are dealing with.”

“I think that this degree is an example of the school’s commitment of meeting the students where they are and feeling a really strong desire from students to have this career,” he said.

A career in nutrition can be difficult to break into without a background in the topic, Long said, which is why many public health schools now offer the major. Six of GW’s 12 peer schools already offer an undergraduate nutrition major including Boston, New York and Syracuse universities along with the University of Miami, University of Pittsburgh and the University of Southern California.

The demand for a full program is not surprising because nutrition is a part of everyone’s daily life, Long added.

“Nutrition is one of the topics that should be included in all of the other important discussions that students are dealing with,” he said.

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