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Books, bones and broccoli

Public health students lead nutrition and aging workshop at local library

Workshop participants with Dalla Lana students Victoria Holla (front row, third from left) and Stephanie Boutette (in blue) with Charna Gord, field work officer of the MPH Community Nutrition Program.

The Toronto Public Library may seem like an unconventional venue to receive dietary advice, but students at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health have turned the priority neighbourhood resource spot into a one-stop-shop for healthy eating advice.

In fall 2013, second-year Master of Public Health (MPH) students Stephanie Boutette and Victoria Holla developed a healthy eating and bones workshop specifically for Humberwood Public Library patrons. With one of the largest public library systems in the world, Toronto libraries are a resource destination for older adults. A needs assessment of the library community revealed to Boutette and Holla that a workshop in Punjabi targeting adults over 50 years-of-age would be most beneficial.

“We had to consider many factors beyond just the workshop materials,” said Boutette, adding that she and Holla assessed the audience’s education level on the spot and adapted their presentation to make it relevant for Punjabi-speaking people.

“By using more photos, incorporating traditional Punjabi foods like paneer, working with a translator and allowing plenty of time for questions, we delivered a workshop that exceeded the needs of the audience.”

For many older adults, maintaining a healthy weight is challenging because exercise may not be an option and fewer calories are needed. Also, low bone density and osteoporosis affect many seniors, so calcium, vitamin D, protein and dairy products are crucial for this age group to maintain or replenish strong bones.

“Designing a workshop for older adults can be tricky because they have an established knowledge base and they may learn in ways that are different than what students are used to,” said Ann Fox, director of the MPH Community Nutrition Program, whose students have led nutrition workshops at more than 30 library branches across Toronto in the last two years.

“As a community nutrition course, it’s important for students to gain experience beyond the classroom by offering education programs to diverse communities in the real world. It’s truly a win-win for U of T’s young professionals and the public who can benefit from healthy eating education.” 

Nicole Bodnar is a writer with the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.