Associate Professor talks student nutrition at Westminster Higher Education ForumWednesday 9 November 2016
Speaking at the Westminster Higher Education Forum in London, Associate Professor Farzad Amirabdollahian delivered a plenary talk asking ‘How can universities help improve students’ diets?’. Chaired by MP for North Durham Mr Kevan Jones and editor of the periodicals Higher Education and Research Fortnight Alison Goddard, the forum discussed strategies for improving students’ wellbeing, including behavioural risk, nutrition, active lifestyles and mental health.
The distinguished forum was attended by stakeholders, policy makers and service users from across the sector and hosted several high-profile speakers, including the Chief Executive of the National Union of Students and National Lead for Wellbeing and Mental Health in Public Health England.
In his plenary talk, Dr Amirabdollahian articulated how early adulthood is often associated with poor dietary habits, presenting evidence from national nutrition surveys. He reminded the forum that within the UK, there is neither national representative data to show the overall nutritional status of students, nor a national health promotion programme to improve nutrition of university students. He reflected on his experience of several research projects in the field, pointing to Liverpool Hope's collaborative approach of studying diet, health and lifestyle together with undergraduate students, as an exemplar for engagement of students with health research.
Dr Amirabdollahian presented some of his research findings and highlighted the complexity of studying nutritional status and elaborating on the interrelationship between health behaviours, such as eating and physical activity and drinking habits, and also sleep quality, stress and mental health. He concluded his talk by clarifying that among the range of tested interventions, nutrition education, point of purchase strategies and self-regulation of food consumption are sustainable, evidence-based and proven strategies for enhancing nutrition of the university students.
Dr Amirabdollahian said: “I was delighted this was very well received by the forum. I discussed several practical examples of engagement with nutrition education that we run at Hope. For example, our health promotion campaigns ‘Hope’s students’ guide to nutrition’ and ‘Let's get Cooking’ are examples of how our colleagues in nutrition are working collaboratively with our Student Development and Well-being team and more importantly our students.
“I also exemplified our newly established Zest Café, with its ambition of enhancement of healthy eating, and the free access to our state-of-the-art sport facilities as evidence of the University’s commitment to enhancing staff and student wellbeing.”