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A new way of thinking

Haskell works to stop diabetes epidemic

LAWRENCE, Kan. - No soda pop machines in the dining hall? Changing the traditional food service menus? It may sound like the makings of an uphill battle, but at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, students appear to be embracing a new way of looking at what goes into their bodies. As part of the ''Healthier Haskell'' program instituted by Haskell's new president, Linda Sue Warner, the ''new'' dining hall is being transformed into a healthier place that students are finding to be a welcome change.

Shelley Bointy, an enrolled member at the Fort Peck Reservation, nutrition coordinator and the head of the diabetic grant program, has stepped up to the challenge and is finding that students are pleasantly surprised at how the changes have made what was once ''cafeteria mainstream'' food an enjoyable change.

One of the first changes that Bointy and Warner agreed on was the removal of soft drink vending machines from the dinning hall. Empty spaces now await new machines that will give students at Haskell a healthier choice in beverages. More reasonable hours for students to come to the dining hall have also been worked out. ''We have a good staff,'' Warner said. ''They are anxious to make changes that benefit the students.''

Warner admits she isn't above having an occasional Coke herself, but realized early on that the dining hall was one place where healthy choices for students needed to start. Her thoughts on removing the soft drinks came from how much she wants students to understand everything that they do can affect them later on.

''They are adults and need to make conscious decisions about their health. ... I have young adults here who need to think about what they put into their minds and bodies,'' she said. ''I'm not going to pay for them to make themselves sick. I'm not going to help them be sick.''

Enter Bointy. Her hard work to change the way students look at what they eat has taken the institutional look, feel and menu away from the dining hall at Haskell. Healthy selections now await students as they stand in line to eat. Soon there will be a salad and soup bar similar to those in restaurants.

Bointy has done demonstrations by pouring sugar and salt into glasses to let students know just how much sugar and sodium they are getting when they make unhealthy choices. Her efforts seem to be paying off. Students are now opting for the healthier menu items and salad bar instead of heavier, starchy foods that they never gave a thought to before.

Students now find fresh fruit and vegetables a welcome and enjoyable change from chips and other snacks. The changes have been taking place gradually, but students living in a health-conscious world are embracing the changes and taking the ideas home with them to pass on to relatives in an effort to stop the spread of diabetes and other health problems Indian country has acquired after years of ''commodity diets'' that have been high in carbohydrates and sugars.

''The first major change was the beverages offered, and that was a major change,'' Bointy said. ''I teach a class here and when the students see an inch of sugar sitting in the bottom of an eight-ounce glass, they really understand what they are drinking. The next change was that we have students with Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes and what we call pre-diabetes. There are students in all kinds of health conditions: some are obese, some are very fit and there are some in between that want to improve or maintain their health.''

Bointy said that before she was given her current position, the dining hall had gone back to a full breakfast that had pancakes, fried eggs and breakfast meats - all the things that were dangerous for those with health problems. Breakfasts are now more like the continental breakfasts found in hotels, although sweet rolls and some other items have been kept on the menu for those who just can't do without them.

''We are really trying to find a good balance for students,'' she continued. ''It can't be so 'healthy' that it turns them off from it. The cooks have already started preparing foods differently. We don't want students to hear that the food is going to be more healthy and think it isn't going to be as good or taste as good. When you make slow, small changes, as we are right now, you will incur permanent change.''

A meeting between Bointy and diabetic chef Chris Jones, who has written for ''Better Homes and Gardens,'' will further the changes being made for the diners at Curtis Hall. Part of the consensus from the meeting will be a public relations campaign directed at the students that will give them nutritional information on food served.

''We just want to become about offering students healthier options that appeal to students without compromising their health,'' Bointy concluded. ''We are teaching moderation. This is a team effort, we have a great staff. They are doing an excellent job in making the changes.''