Patrilie Hernandez, an anthropology student at UMSL, presents her research in the Capitol Rotunda in Jefferson City, Mo. (Photo by the University of Missouri System)

For Patrilie Hernandez, a senior at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, food is both a profession and a passion.

With an educational background in the culinary arts and hospitality management, Hernandez has spent several years working in kitchens. Throughout her life, feeding others has been a point of pride and something she took great pleasure from.

Although she liked the work, when Hernandez was in her 20s, she realized that she wanted to “go a step further” and dedicate her career to helping all people eat better – not just those who could afford to dine in nice restaurants.

Hernandez is enrolled at UMSL as an anthropology major with an emphasis in food studies. She was one of 46 students to present research March 1 at the Capitol Rotunda in Jefferson City, Mo., as part of the University of Missouri System’s Undergraduate Research Day. As part of the day, she was able to visit with legislators from her hometown and tour the chambers of the Missouri House and Senate.

Hernandez interviewed African American women in the city of St. Louis about how this population views healthy and nutritious foods and how their nutrition education influence their food buying decisions as well as their exposure to formal nutrition education. Although obesity is a national epidemic, African Americans tend to be at higher risk than the national average to develop obesity and related chronic diseases. Research also shows that women tend to be the primary decision makers when it comes to a family’s diet, making this an especially important group to research and understand.

She found that the majority of women surveyed had no formal nutrition education and those who did didn’t necessarily have a better understanding of proper nutrition, especially if they received information in a medical setting. She also found most of those surveyed perceived “healthy eating” as expensive and inaccessible. Some of her early conclusions are that nutrition education would be most effective in a non-medical setting, such as a nonprofit.

Hernandez is excited to continue her studies and hopes to apply her research to both educate those in her hometown and to work to ensure more urban residents have access to healthful foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

“I think it’s so important to get out in the community and do research like this,” she said. “I’m here because I want to make the world a better place, but you have to get out there to understand what the world is like.”

This story originally appeared as part of the “Advancing Missouri” series on the University of Missouri System website.

Ryan Heinz

Ryan Heinz