Scholarship Finalist BC - Sophia Jhajj

The Role of Nutrition in Preventative Healthcare: 2019 Scholarship Finalist (BC)

Sophia Jhajj

University of British Columbia – Dietetics – 2021

Who am I?

My name is Sophia Jhajj and I’m currently in the Dietetics program at UBC. When people think of dietitians, many assume that we just create meal plans and focus on weight loss. Although these are possible avenues of the profession, I personally aspire to create a larger impact in preventative healthcare. Having knowledge on the role nutrition plays in fueling our bodies, preventing diseases, and its impact on our mental well being provides me with tools to help future generations grow healthy and happy. Food is essential for everyone, and pursuing dietetics has given me an opportunity to learn about the abundant connections between nutrients and our health. Through classes and extracurricular experiences, I have gained perspective on the importance of eating and the delicate relationship our bodies have with our choices. In terms of both physical and mental health, the nutrition choices we make serve as a foundation to our well being and plays an integral role from a prevention outlook.

 A Youth-Centered Approach

One of my specific career goals is to work with youth to instill healthy habits at a young age. I was once provided with the analogy that when we learn how to perform CPR, we don’t learn about the inner mechanisms or exactly how it works – we simply learn how to do it. A similar approach can be taken for teaching others, especially children, about food. Rather than teaching youth about what each vitamin specifically does or the biochemical aspects of nutrients, I hope to focus on what healthy eating may look like and practical ways to inspire healthy eating habits. One approach to this is encouraging children to follow eating patterns that align with the healthy plate model. This approach focuses on filling your plate half full of vegetables and fruit, a quarter full of protein, and a quarter full of whole grains. Teaching youth to try to eat this way 80% of the time and having other foods 20% of the time allows for more flexibility and a healthy relationship with food to flourish. It doesn’t label items as “good” or “bad” but rather emphasizes how we can practice eating healthy. I aim to target youth due to the ability of catching and preventing disordered eating or other diseases before they escalate. Compared to type 2 diabetes, there are 974x more children living with eating disorders. If positive relationships with food and the body are learned in adolescence, it may help prevent this commonly overlooked fact that disordered eating patterns are rising. In addition to foods connection to mental health, promoting healthy eating to youth can help establish habits that may lower their risk for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis, and countless other diseases which are influenced by the foods we consume. The dietetics profession will allow me to address this in hospitals, outpatient clinics, schools, or youth events such as camps and community gatherings.

Utilizing Online Platforms

I also aim to impact preventative health care through an online approach. We live in a generation consumed by social media, fad diets, and false information on the internet. I currently write food-related articles for an online nutrition influencer, known as Pick Up Limes, with almost 1.8 million subscribers on YouTube. It’s very rewarding to be able to teach people about nutrition and provide feasible ways to strive for healthy choices. I hope to continue to use an online presence to translate the science behind food into a consumer-friendly manner which can be available to anyone. Working online provides an opportunity to reach out to countless people and discuss the importance of our nutrition choices in preventative healthcare. There’s a lot of misinformation out there and I am passionate about sharing my knowledge to others.

Conclusion

Overall, in the dietetics profession, I aim to promote healthy relationships with food to help others understand the role nutrition plays from the preventative standpoint. Unhealthy eating habits may put us at risk for some diseases, but can also negatively impact our mental health. I look forward to helping others create lifelong habits that can support them to live as healthy as possible upon graduation!