Endowed Community Nutrition Professor in the United States discusses his journey, current role, and research.
Could you share your journey from Nigeria to becoming aProfessor of Human Nutrition in the United States?
My name is Dr. Temitope Ibiyemi. As you rightly mentioned, I am an Assistant Professor of Human Nutrition at Southern Utah University. I will say my journey to becoming a professor was not linear. It started with my undergraduate degrees in Food Technology at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, from 2008 to 2013. Between 2009 and 2011, I interned at Nigerian German Chemicals and Guinness Nigerian Plc, providing me with experiential knowledge of what I had learned in school. After completing my NYSC in 2015, I reached out to an academic mentor of mine who was then working with Union Bank and expressed my desire to become a Professor. He opened the map of North America for me. He gave me an exposition of the opportunities that abound in the US and Canada if I desired to get a Doctoral degree and become a professor. As fate would have it, his brother, who was based in the US, called right while I was in his office and advised it was best I considered evaluating my undergraduate degrees to ensure I am more competitive to get admissions to schools in North America. With his aid and guidance, I got admitted to Texas Southern University for a master’s program in 2016; the rest is history.After my master’s program, I completed a Doctoral program in Nutritional Science at Texas Tech University. I have since worked as an Instructor and Assistant Professor at Texas Tech University and Southern Utah University.
How has your Nigerian heritage influenced your academic journey, perspective, and research in human nutrition?
First, my parents are both in academics. My dad is a Senior Lecturer at Achievers University, and my mum was a teacher for the Lagos State Government for over 30 years. You know, as one who grew up in a home where education was highly valued, my parents ensured that I prioritized my education. Likewise, the opportunity to study on two continents helped me understand the complexities between nutrition in a developing country and nutrition in a developed country. This understanding is influential to my current research addressing the global double burden of malnutrition.
What specific areas in nutritional sciences are you currently focused on in your research?
My research expertise is in community and public health nutrition. My research endeavors include addressing the double burden of malnutrition, improving food security, and promoting healthy eating and wellness among low-income, vulnerable, and underserved populations. My research currently incorporatesobjective measuring and assessment tools to advance “Food as Medicine” interventions.
Your research addresses the double burden of malnutrition and the eating challenges college students face. What is the double burden of malnutrition, and what inspired you to delve into this particular aspect of nutrition?
Okay, so in simple terms, the double burden of malnutrition is when people don’t have enough to eat to meet nutritional requirements, resulting in undernutrition and coexisting with overweight/obesity within individuals, households, or in a community. This is common among low-income population groups, who may not have the financial capacity to purchase and consume healthy foods. I have studied this concept among several low-income and malnourished communities. In South Africa, my research utilized high-protein snacks developed from soy to address this burden of malnutrition.
Also, with respect to college students, think about it for a second: if you were asked to list low-income population groups, would you consider college students? Oftentimes, the answer is no. College students are mostly forgotten when the double burden of malnutrition and eating challenges are considered. However, in reality, the concepts of malnutrition are particularly relevant among college students. The transition to university life is a pivotal period for many students. Many college students lack the financial capacity, self-efficacy, cooking abilities, and knowledge to support a healthy diet and eating habits. It is also a period where they want to develop and build friendships and want to be in the good books of their peers. They often facenutritional challenges ranging from food insecurity to unhealthy eating habits leading to obesity. My inspiration to delve into this aspect of nutrition stemmed from personal experience and observing the unique dietary challenges faced by college students, both as a student and a professor.
As an educator, what unique approaches do you bring to teaching nutrition to your students?
So, my unique approach to teaching nutrition involves integrating hands-on examples and emphasizing the real-world applications of nutritional science. I always want my students to understand that what they are learning are concepts they will use in the near future. So, I spend a lot of time brainstorming on relevant examples and real-world applications. This approach ensures students have an in-depth understanding of the importance of nutrition in their daily lives and are equipped with practical skills to make informed dietary choices.
Can you share practical strategies that parents can employ to positively influence the nutritional choices of their college-bound children, even from a distance?
Definitely, I recently completed research identifying the challenges of college students in healthy eating, which confirms that parents can influence the dietary habits of their young adults on campus. The most important thing is for parents to respect the wishes of their young adults and create an atmosphere that encourages their children to talk freely about their eating and nutrition challenges. Parents can maintain open communication about healthy eating, maybe share nutritious recipes, encourage meal planning, and emphasize the importance of balanced diets, especially eating fruits and vegetables. Additionally, our study showed that providing guidance on grocery shopping andbudget-friendly healthy options can empower students to make informed and wholesome dietary decisions. Finally, parents should always consider purchasing some fruits or vegetables “as a gift” when visiting their students on campus.
In your experience, why is it difficult to lose weight and maintain healthy eating habits, especially among young adults, and how can these challenges be addressed?
I believe the biggest challenge in initiating and sustaining healthy eating habits, particularly among young adults, is that there are more fads about nutrition than facts. Incredible sources of information and unqualified individuals feel they can give nutritional advice once they try a new product that works. Just look at the various popular diets and ask yourself, was this implemented by a dietitian or Nutritionist? It will most likely be by a doctor, sports personnel, or someone who knows little about nutrition or dietetics. So, individuals are left thinking they can achieve weight loss or maintain healthy eating habits with a gimmick. Achieving and maintaining any sustainable eating habit or weight loss takes time. My first suggestion to everyone is always to ensure they get their nutrition information from reputable sources, such as Accredited Nutrition and Dietetics organizations, Renowned Colleges and Universities, and government organizations, and also to seek the help of nutrition and dietetic professionals.
What advice would you give to students in Nigeria or other developing countries aspiring to a career in nutrition?
I will summarize my advice this way: Invest in credible information, get a mentor, and fail fast. As I mentioned earlier, my path to success and becoming a professor straight from a polytechnic started with reaching out to my mentor and seeking his support. At that point in my life, I was unaware that with a Higher National Diploma from a polytechnic in Nigeria, one could get admission to study in the US after evaluating the degree. Information is power, and I have no doubt there is no limit to what hardworking students can achieve with the correctinformation. Also, on the path to completing a graduate degree, you will fail many times and often doubt your ability to proceed. The key is getting up, finding a support system, and moving onfast. There is no point in dwelling on your failures. Proceed to the next plan and keep on.