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The Fruits of Her Labor

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Ronya Nassar '15 spent her summer delivering fruits and veggies to children as part of Allentown's "Fruits and Veggies on the Move" program.

Albright College junior Ronya Nassar is encouraging children to adopt lifelong healthy habits, including eating more fruits and veggies. 

By Hilary Bentman

Ronya Nassar ’15 is on a mission to get kids to eat their fruits and veggies.

And she’s spreading that message any way she can – through educational programs, an Albright College ACRE project, a blog, and behind the wheel of a pick-up truck decorated with grapes, watermelon, tomatoes and lettuce.

“Watch out ice cream trucks, there’s a new sheriff in town,” Nassar posted on her blog, chronicling her adventure last summer delivering fruits and vegetables to children attending day camps in her native Allentown.

Nassar worked for the Allentown Health Bureau’s “Fruits and Veggies on the Move,” a program designed to help combat childhood obesity, improve nutrition, and encourage children and families to make healthier lifestyle choices.

Nassar, a psychobiology/communications major, distributed everything from nectarines and strawberries to carrots and snap peas. But some children could not identify the items.

“The first day I gave a nectarine to a boy, and he thought it was an apple,” Nassar said. “He had only had it once before through the same program the year before. It was heartbreaking to me.”

The experience opened her eyes to the realities of many inner-city youth, who, due to cultural or economic reasons or lack of knowledge, are just not eating right. And Nassar realized the problem was not confined to Allentown.

“I began thinking about how important it is to bring something like this to Reading,” she said.

So Nassar spent the 2014 January Interim session working with third-graders at 13th and Union Elementary School, adjacent to Albright’s campus. Her work was part of an Albright Creative Research Experience (ACRE), a multi-disciplinary program that affords students the opportunity to conduct research or pursue creative endeavors during the three-week Interim or summer break. 

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Nassar poses with the information board she assembled as part of her ACRE project working with students at Reading's 13th and Union Elementary School.

Nassar first surveyed the students’ knowledge of and willingness to eat fruits and veggies. The students were asked to correctly identify banana, mango, clementine, baby carrots, squash and jicama and rate the likelihood they would eat each item.

Next, Nassar conducted an educational session – which involved some tasting – and highlighted the “specific benefits of these fruits and vegetables.” Nassar also distributed materials for students to take home.

Finally, Nassar re-administered the assessment and found that the students’ scores had improved. She also discovered that the educational session and taste-tests increased the likelihood the kids would eat mango and clementine.

Visiting assistant psychology professor Jennifer Chikar, Ph.D., who served as Nassar’s ACRE faculty mentor, called the project “an excellent hands-on opportunity for [Nassar] to objectively assess students’ knowledge instead of relying on anecdotal descriptions of student eating patterns.”

Added Chikar: “There is a lot of talk about obesity and unhealthy eating in America… and education is one of the best ways to change people’s eating habits. For the elementary students, it will expose them to foods that they may not be aware of and hopefully demonstrate how healthy eating is not only important, but fun and flavorful as well. We are optimistic that the information Ronya gives the students will carry over and influence the food choices they make at home and at school.”

Nassar’s ACRE may be over, but her work is far from complete.

This spring she is interning with Reading Health System, teaching pre-schoolers about healthy eating. Nassar will help create programs, games and recipes for the children and will reach out to their parents through a newsletter. Nassar also plans to get back in the truck this summer and resume her fruit and veggie deliveries in Allentown.

Post-Albright, Nassar hopes to pursue a master’s in public health and become a public health official.

“Childhood obesity is a scary epidemic, and it can be easily stopped by making healthier choices for your kids and encouraging them to enjoy about 60 minutes of physical activity a day,” wrote Nassar on her blog. “It is easy to start your kids on a great healthy kick today that will impact their life for the better.”

 

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