A new program at the University of Missouri is aimed at helping low income families eat healthy foods.

Chris Hardin PhD MU Nutrition and Exercise Physiology Department - Photo courtesy of University of Missouri

Chris Hardin PhD MU Nutrition and Exercise Physiology Department – Photo courtesy of University of Missouri

According to the MU Family Impact Center, nearly twice as many low income people have poor diets compared to middle-class and wealthy residents. The center also points to research that children living below the federal poverty level are nearly three times more likely to be obese than children from wealthy families.

Under the new program, a registered dietitian will supervise dietetics students while they provide advice and services free-of-charge.

Chris Hardin with the MU Nutrition and Exercise Physiology Department says both students and clients will benefit.  “It give our students the experience to serve these populations, as well as having these populations served both a dietitian and a trainee” said Hardin.

Low income families residing in “food deserts” where full service supermarkets are scarce, could benefit from the MU program.  The American Nutrition Center identifies food deserts as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas”.

About finding nutritious food in such areas, Hardin said “To be able to get fresh meats and vegetable proteins and things like that isn’t so easy.  With convenience stores, one is stuck with more processed foods, foods with less protein, foods with more added simple sugars.  All of those things are not good for most peoples’ diets.”

Hardin says the MU program could be especially helpful with Type-2 Diabetes, which disproportionately affects low income people.  “It’s difficult to know how to shop and how to cook, not only healthy, but in a flavorful way with a diet that helps a Type-2 Diabetic.  The dietetic students can council families on the right food choices and food preparation techniques, and help them identify whether certain diets are working or not to keep their blood glucose levels better controlled.”

The new dietetics program at MU is supported by a $100,000 gift from the non-profit Springfield based organization Bee Payne-Stewart Foundation.

The money will provide $15,000 annually for five years to support a dietitian supervisor, as well as $5,000 annually for five years to support the dedicated simulation training for dietetics students at the MU School of Medicine.

To become a registered dietician through the University of Missouri requires completion of a five year program.  Two years of prerequisites is followed by three years in a coordinated dietetics program.

Hardin says the school’s dietetics program is similar to a medical program in that it’s highly competitive with a limited number of slots.  By accreditation standards, it can only accept up to 20 students per year.

Once the five year program is completed, graduates can take the registered dietitian exam.