Teaming Up for Health at Michigan

A cooperative effort by several departments aids students, faculty and staff in making smart diet choices.

By 
Paul King, Editor

The home page for Michigan's MyNutrition program.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—As more college students are diagnosed with nutrition-related health problems, university foodservice programs increasingly are turning to other departments to help provide necessary guidance.

One example is at the University of Michigan, where Residential Dining Services has partnered with University Health Services to help students manage their food allergies. The service is part of an overall effort by the university to make and keep all members of the campus community healthy.

Kathy Whiteside, menu and nutrition information manager for RDS, says that providing students with ingredient and allergy information and support is critical for students to be able to manage their own food allergies.

“For many students, college is the first time parents or other family members haven’t been around to help manage food allergies,” Whiteside says. “Our work is intended to provide assistance to students who are learning to manage their food allergies by giving them the information they need to make safe choices.”

For many years, RDS has given students a wide array of menu options to accommodate special dietary needs. It also has been providing information about nutrition and food allergens, MHealthy dining guidelines, healthy eating seminars and individual consultations with registered dietitians.

A year ago, RDS created MyNutrition, an online tool available to all members of the university community, and began posting nutrition and allergen information for all its menu choices. The system allows students to easily identify the ingredients of entrées being served at each dining hall on campus; this also empowers students with food allergies to see which menu items are safe for them to eat before they head for a meal at a dining hall.

Health & Wellness, University of Michigan, Nutrition CardLast fall, RDS began listing common allergens on the nutrition information cards located next to the entrées in the dining hall serveries. The cards help ensure that students make informed decisions to better manage their allergies as they select their meal items.

Allergens now noted on the point-of-service cards include barley/rye, eggs, fish, milk, oats, peanuts seeds, shellfish, soy, tree nuts and wheat. Additionally, the cards provide macro-nutrition information and specify which dishes are vegetarian, vegan or recognized as healthy dining options by the campuswide MHealthy Program. The MHealthy program is an initiative aimed at creating a healthier campus community by encouraging healthier lifestyles through diet, exercise and other personal wellness activities.

The MHealthy Program has several wellness-oriented features. For example, Ask The Registered Dietitian allows students, faculty and staff to get nutrition information via email.

Eat For The Health Of It is a six-week program designed for university employees to help them develop the nutrition acumen needed to make healthy food choices. Departments participate as a team, with an MHealthy Wellness Champion—one is designated for each university department—leading the effort.

Healthy Cooking Classes provide attendees with a quick education in how to prepare healthy and cost-effective meals at home. The classes include a session on knife skills.

MHealthy Nutrition Consults, available at no cost to faculty and staff only, provide one-on-one counseling. Customers meet with a dietitian who works up a nutrition assessment and helps set nutrition goals based on that assessment and then guides the person through the program. Consults are available in person or via web conferencing.

Finally, the MHealthy Program has created a logo that is used by dining
services to identify appropriate foods sold in foodservice outlets and vending machines and by the catering department.

University Unions also label the products made by their chefs with a complete ingredient list and inform customers which products contain nuts, milk, flour, soy and other common allergens and irritants. Additionally, foods prepared by University Unions are also labeled as gluten free, locally produced, organic, kosher, vegan and vegetarian.

“Having all these resources is a great start for students, but I always encourage students to ask questions if they are ever unsure about whether a certain allergen is in a dish,” Whiteside says. “There are connections across the university to help them manage their allergies.”

Among other student resources offered at U-M, University Health Services
offers allergy services that include allergy testing, consultation and immuno-
therapy to help students navigate their way through their allergies.

“Students should know that we’re here to help them learn about and manage their allergies in whatever way best meets their needs,” says Dr. Ben Gold, who heads the allergy services at UHS. “Food allergies can be serious medical conditions and, as such, require the proper level of attention to ensure students are taking care of themselves.”

The University of Michigan Health System has the U-M Food Allergy Program, with specially trained physicians and a nurse coordinator to provide care for patients with food allergies or gastrointestinal intolerances. A registered dietitian is also available to help patients and families navigate meal planning and ensure food allergic students get the nutrients they need.

“Food allergies have reached epidemic proportions in the United States, affecting approximately 12 million Americans, and there is evidence that this problem is growing rapidly,” says Dr. Marc McMorris, director of the U-M Food Allergy Program. “Residential Dining Services and Kathy Whiteside’s phenomenal work to ensure safe campus dining for students with food allergies has given example by which many other institutions can learn.”