In recent years, a number of chain restaurants and venues have begun featuring healthier menu items and food marked as “low-calorie” or “low-fat.”
But as a part of National Public Health Week last week, students at USF College of Public Health kicked off a project to bring healthier lunches to campus by highlighting options in an increasingly popular food source where “healthier” options were previously not advertised – food trucks.
“We know that rates of obesity are skyrocketing, not just in our country, but around the world,” USF Health Professor Julie Baldwin said. “So much of that is related to our diet, but also lack of exercise. To really make an impact, we have to change the culture around how we eat and stay active. This is one way of doing this.”
Baldwin, from the USF College of Public Health department of community and family health, and her students started the “EdiBull” campaign to help bring healthier food options to food trucks and potentially elsewhere in the USF community.
Last week, the implementation of EdiBull expanded to the first of several potential food trucks that regularly circulate through Tampa and on campus. One of the student’s working in Baldwin’s graduate-level health intervention class, Lauren Vance, said the program was designed to make those on campus aware of healthier lunch options as they purchase their meals.
With EdiBull, all menu items that have been analyzed by the students and determined “healthy” are marked with the campaign logo.
Vance helped work with local vendors to analyze food options for nutritional elements, including calories, fat content and more.
“We felt these elements are easy for people to understand and are what people are usually concerned with,” she said.
All the options recommended by EdiBull are less than 550 calories, low in fat, contain whole grains and are considered “re-energizing.”
College students always seem to be low on time and energy, Vance said.
But making healthier choices is something she said could easily be solved by a better marketing strategy that educates consumers on the food they eat before they order.
Vance, along with 12 other students, worked with USF College of Public Health professor and dietician Lauri Wright to determine the best ways to educate consumers about nutritional information.
Vance said students were able to learn a computer program to breakdown and analyze the nutrition facts by getting the ingredients and recipes from vendors.
“The biggest trick was getting the owners to give up the recipes, but we did it,” she said.
Tammy Young, who owns Rollin’ Zoinks, the first food truck to adopt EdiBull’s marketing, said she originally got into the food truck business by wanting to offer healthier food options to the market, and working with EdiBull was the perfect extension of that ideal.
“From the beginning it was just a delight to work with the entire team… It was a seamless implementation.”
Young said she is working with students to evaluate the marketing, but said she has already seen an increase in healthier items sold.
EdiBull has also implemented its program a few weeks ago at Tarek’s CafÃ©, a popular location open daily on the USF Health side of campus owned by Tarek Elsayed. Elsayed said the campaign has been very successful at his restaurant, and has even made him create healthier items for his menu.
“USF needs a market for healthier food,” he said. “The students hit the nail on the head by launching EdiBull. People have definitely welcomed it and everyone loves the healthier items. It’s amazing.”
While Baldwin said there is still some conversation going on to expand the project to other food trucks and elsewhere on the USF Health campus, she said she would like to expand the project.
“The more you work with different restaurants, the more you start to really change the culture,” she said. “You can potentially have a big impact, especially in an area like nutrition.”