Like a lot of graduate students, Sarah Jacquart took time this summer to focus on her research. But in her case, that meant spending five mornings each week with a group of excitable middle-schoolers, eating snap peas and exploring the dangers of garlic breath.
Jacquart, a doctoral student in nutritional sciences, leads GardenFit, a program designed to study and promote the health of overweight youth. For eight weeks during the summer, Jacquart convenes students in a local garden, where they learn to grow, prepare and eat healthy fruits and vegetables. The brainchild of Jacquart’s advisor, nutritional sciences professor Dale Schoeller, and UW-Madison physician Alexandra Adams, the project is testing gardening as a way to prevent weight gain during the summer, which Jacquart says is when many children pack on pounds.
“We’re not necessarily trying to intervene and cause a lot of weight loss over the summer,” explains Jacquart. “We’re trying to prevent that three- to six-pound weight gain that other researchers have seen.”
When the GardenFit program is in session, Jacquart takes pleasure in the small, day-to-day breakthroughs of introducing kids to new experiences and tastes. She loves seeing the kids eat sugar snap peas fresh off the vine, many for the very first time. She recalls how her group made a pact to try garlic scapes en masse so that they all would end up with stinky breath. Just about everyone liked them, she says.
The experience has taught Jacquart something about her own ambitions, too. After earning her degree, she plans to become a registered dietitian. And while she hasn’t settled on where that career path may take her yet, one thing is certain.
“I know I want to work with people,” says Jacquart, who grew up in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. “I love being able to talk to people about nutrition and give them advice that could help improve their lives.”