The schedules of a police worker and college student are surprisingly similar. They’re often tired, stressed and constantly on the move. Oregon State dietetics students marinated in this similarity as they created a pilot nutrition program for the Corvallis Police Department (CPD).
Dietetics class project comes to life
Neilann Horner, clinical associate professor and dietetic program director, says the CPD wellness committee contacted her seeking help in developing nutrition information for department employees.
To address their request, two groups in Neilann’s promoting food and nutrition course tailored their class projects to meet the needs of the CPD. When the course ended, Neilann offered to guide a team in evolving and implementing the project. The students jumped on the opportunity and never looked back.
“We said, ‘Let’s do it!’” says senior dietetics student Brooklyn Reeves. “We knew it would be such a good experience to use what we’re learning in our program in the real world. We worked all spring and summer to make it happen.”
Fueling the force
Brooklyn, along with fellow students Dana Bean, Prabha Honrath, Madeline Nutter and Bailey Pruner dedicated their free time over the next six months to evolve the in-class project into a pilot nutrition program called Fuel the Force. They also developed a website and how-to videos to provide straightforward nutrition information.
“We wanted to make it as easy for them as possible to learn little bits of nutrition information at a time and then incorporate that information into building whole meals,” Madeline says.
The eight-week Fuel the Force program is composed of weekly goals, all focused on promoting healthy eating habits — specifically, increased consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as healthy protein sources and hydration. Participants compete in teams, stirring in friendly competition to achieve weekly goals
Dana says that since police officers are always on the move, they also wanted to encourage them to pack healthy lunches and snacks. To support this behavior change, the students recommended each employee be provided with an insulated lunch box. The suggestion was taken.
“The behaviors we’re promoting have been shown to reduce the risk of chronic illness,” Dana says. “Especially the ones they would be susceptible to, such as heart disease, which is related to high-stress jobs. The main goal of Fuel the Force is to reduce the risk of developing chronic illness.”
Bite-sized is better
Neilann says the program acknowledges that most people just want a snippet of general information accompanied by some ideas on how to fulfill the recommendations.
“We start out by keeping everything short and sweet, and then if they want to know more, they can dig deeper on the website,” Prabha says. “I think that’s what really sets us apart. With a lot of other interventions, you get all these figures and numbers that you don’t know what to do with.”
Filling a void
As the students were planning and researching, they were surprised to find a lack of nutrition interventions tailored for police departments.
“There is such a need for this,” Prabha says. “There really isn’t that much out there, which is honestly shocking. It’s exciting to pioneer this.”
Madeline adds that the police department already has a fitness program; Fuel the Force fills the need for a nutrition competent. She says there could also be a mental health element in the future.
The team will conduct a post-survey and a wrap-up session to evaluate the pilot. “We’ll learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t to see if this program may be something that could be replicated at other police and fire departments around the state,” Neilann says.
Fueled by a desire to serve
“The students have really taken a creative leap in promoting food and nutrition propelled by a sincere desire to give back to those who serve to protect us every day,” Neilann says.
Bailey, a junior dietetics student, says this project makes her excited for her future as a dietitian.
“After how much work we’ve put into this project, it feels amazing to know we are providing the Corvallis Police Department with proper nutrition information and will hopefully be making a positive impact on their lives.”