The UNC Nutrition Research Institute is closing the gap between Carolina researchers and the community by sharing its latest health and nutrition research through its monthly “Appetite for Life” outreach program.
The NRI launched Appetite for Life shortly after the institute opened in 2008 to host cooking and science demonstrations, events and interactive lectures that present nutrition research in a new way that’s easy to understand and builds connections with community members.
“What we like to tell people, especially when we’re getting them ready to serve as a speaker, is we want it to feel more like a TED Talk,” said Sarah Hreyo, development associate at the NRI. “Something where people are engaged, they’re excited, they’re learning, but it’s not over their heads.”
Based at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, North Carolina, the NRI and its researchers focus on human health and nutrition. The institute sits on what was once Kannapolis’ claim to fame: a mill site during the state’s bustling textile-manufacturing days.
After the mill shut down in 2003, the city reinvented itself by creating the state-of-the-art research campus in 2008. Hreyo believes that Appetite for Life can help residents stay engaged with the science-based newcomers.
“The North Carolina Research Campus is an awesome resource to have in the town,” she said. “We want our community members to know that we’re here. That’s one reason why doing these events is so important — to keep the community engaged with the campus, even though engagement might not look the same as what they knew it was just 20 or 30 years ago.”
In addition to TED Talk-styled lectures, Appetite for Life hosts free cooking demonstrations and wellness workshops. Attendees can join Zoom sessions online live, but the content is available on the NRI website afterward for people who couldn’t watch the live event.
“We want everyone to know that we’re a space where they can come to learn and to grow,” Hreyo said. “We’re a resource in the community and provide learning opportunities for both adults and younger students.”
Appetite for Life is also a chance for faculty members, researchers and students to gain public speaking experience. Isis Trujillo, research associate professor and former postdoctoral researcher at the NRI, is grateful that she could present her research at Appetite for Life.
“Appetite for Life was an exceptional experience for me,” she said. “I think that our research should be well communicated to the community, and we have the responsibility to do it, to be able to build a close relationship. When I presented my research, we were recruiting people for a human study. People asked questions and were very engaged and interested in being part of our study. The most gratifying part was to receive notes and comments at the end of my talk, thanking the institute for our research.”
The NRI hopes that promoting its work through Appetite for Life builds a stronger connection with its community near and far. The program provides a direct link to local neighbors and an online resource for friends across the country and world.
“We’re trying to get the word out there that our work is important and that it’s something that people can support because it’s impactful to them,” Hreyo said. “The work that we’re doing now is meaningful to the future of precision nutrition. Our scientists look at precision nutrition as it relates to so many aspects of human health, which can really make a difference in someone’s life.”