UC Assistant Professor Seung-Yeon Lee, PhD, has a big idea to help Greater Cincinnati: Her proposal to create nutrition education programs at food pantries made it to the final round in the Big Idea Challenge held by The Greater Cincinnati Foundation.
The challenge is a project of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, which is asking residents to submit ideas for their communities in seven different categories.
In addition to cash prizes, winners with the seven top ideas will be linked with a nonprofit organization for implementation and receive $5,000 grants to get their ideas rolling. The overall top idea will receive $50,000 from the GCF board members to bring that idea to fruition.
Lee’s proposal is to create a sustainable nutrition education program in Cincinnati’s 55 food pantries. Not only will programs encourage clients to choose healthy foods wisely within limited resources, but she says goal-oriented nutrition education can empower pantry clients to make progressive changes to achieving their health goals.
Lee, a member of the Department of Nutritional Sciences in the College of Allied Health Sciences says it has been a dream of hers to make sustainable nutrition education available in the city’s food pantries.
She says it was a combination of her work as an educator, researcher and volunteer in recent years that gave her the idea.
While teaching the CAHS Community Nutrition course, she taught students to develop and provide one nutrition education session in a community setting. She also volunteered her time and nutrition expertise with the UC Open School Clinic.
"Through my activities of research, teaching, and service, I established partnerships with St. Vincent dePaul and FreeStore FoodBank and I could clearly see their needs,” says Lee. "Based on findings from my studies, the food insecure populations have increased risk for diet-related chronic diseases and depressive feelings.”
In a pilot study Lee conducted of food pantry users, clients reported that their limited ability to cook healthy meals was a barrier to healthy eating.
"They also reported difficulty interpreting nutrition labels yet, they were interested in learning how to use food labels to eat healthfully,” says Lee.
But by encouraging small changes in nutrition through education, Lee believes her project can decrease the risks and prevalence of diet-related chronic disease, further reduce health disparity and build healthier communities.
"I hope we can establish a feasible model of nutrition education at food pantries such that other cities throughout the country might adopt this model as their own,” she says. "Making sustainable nutrition education available at all our food pantries will ultimately help clients have healthier eating behavior within their limited resources. If nothing else, I hope being one of the finalists has provided an opportunity to increase the awareness of the nutrition education need in food pantries.”
She adds, "I am very honored to be one of 21 finalists. I have enjoyed the process—seeking support from family, friends, colleagues, and students, as well as receiving support and encouragement from them. Their support and encouragement will help me keep going until I can put my dream into action.”