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Nutrition students help others at A&M-Kingsville (12/15/97)

Nutrition students at Texas A&M University-Kingsville are finding a way to gain diet counseling skills and help other students at the same time.

Starting in January, undergraduates in the Department of Human Sciences food and nutrition science program will help provide nutrition counseling at the student clinic on campus. They will work with a registered dietitian who began the counseling part time in September. The undergraduates will begin by observing her counseling sessions, then leading sessions with her present.

"We are very excited about it," said Dr. Rebecca Hammond, medical director of A&M-Kingsville's Student Health Center. "There's a great need for nutritional instruction because we have many patients who are obese and have related diseases such as hypertension or diabetes."

Dr. Hammond and Gloria Fernandez-Van Zante, the registered dietitian, met and the idea took shape. Fernandez-Van Zante is the coordinator of the university's Nutrition Resource Project, which is supported by the South Texas/Border Regional Health Education Initiative. The project helps nutrition and food science graduates complete their 1,040-hour internship required to become a registered dietitian.

"The response for counseling has been overwhelming. She is booked six to eight weeks in advance," Dr. Hammond said. Working two half-days a week, Fernandez-Van Zante, herself an A&M-Kingsville graduate, counsels students considered "morbidly obese," those weighing twice their recommended weight.

"We are piloting what we hope will become a rotation for our dietetic interns," Fernandez-Van Zante said. Rotations last a month or more and usually involve full-time work at a clinical and institutional site.

Interns have their bachelor's degree and intend to become registered dietitians. Registered dietitians are qualified to provide counseling and recommend special diets. Many of the interns are pursuing their master's degree in human sciences with an emphasis in nutrition at A&M-Kingsville.

"Counseling and nutritional instruction are very important parts of the internship. For the undergraduates, this is a great opportunity because they receive early experience that ties into their coursework," Fernandez-Van Zante said.

"I'm amazed at the number of students I am seeing who are obese or who already have hypertension, high cholesterol or diabetes. These are tomorrow's professionals who will be entering the permanent work force already affected by chronic disease. We hope to help by teaching them nutrition management skills and at the same time provide our nutrition students with the opportunity to develop their skills as counselors," she said.

Contact: Jim Barrett (210) 567-2570