When she discovered that the worst death rates in California were in her own home county in northern California, Sarah Han ’15 wasted no time pitching the Davis Projects for Peace scholar program on her “Rx for veggies and wellness” idea. The Scripps alumna—then in her senior year studying human biology—not only landed the grant but implemented a wellness program with a local nonprofit using community gardening as a primary strategy. A year later, the program continues via Open Door Community Health Centers, employing Humboldt State University students as interns/volunteers, and Han continues her pursuit of making the world a healthier place—one person, one farm-to-fork plate at a time.
“Through my pre-medical and public health track at Scripps, I began to see Arcata and surrounds in a way that I had, quite frankly, been oblivious to growing up there. The place that most people know as breathtaking coastline and the most majestic Californian forests is also a â€˜medically underserved area,’ meaning that more than 30 percent of families are â€˜food insecure,'” Han explained.
Han used the Davis grant funds to collaborate with Humboldt County area health providers and developed a community garden, 14 individual home gardens, and tools and resources for healthcare workers to use in counseling their patients in wellness strategies.
Han discovered the importance of nutritional counseling to promote wellness during her undergraduate studies as she became aware that obesity and diabetes were fast becoming the biggest health concern across the globe. She was recently published in Clinical Nutrition ESPEN for a study she started while studying abroad in Switzerland. The study examines how well-prepared medical residents feel about their ability to counsel patients in nutrition for preventive care at two hospitals in Switzerland.
“With the rise in obesity and diabetes, nutrition counseling in preventive and primary care is more relevant now than ever. However, doctors are often not prepared enough in their medical training to talk to their patients about nutrition in an effective and sensitive way,” Han said. “I knew this was true in the U.S., and I wanted to see if Switzerland faced similar issues.” Han said she and her research colleagues found that while emerging Swiss physicians thought that nutrition counseling was important, they also had similar insecurities to their U.S. counterparts about their ability to actually counsel their patients about nutrition due to a lack of time, resources, and training.
“I think my interest stemmed from wanting to become a doctor myself—I wanted to know how well medical school might prepare me to take on nutrition and wellness issues,” she said.
Han is now a post-baccalaureate student at UC Berkeley’s health professions program, and for the past year, she has been working full-time as a research associate at Learning for Action (LFA), a San Francisco-based consulting firm that provides research, evaluation, and strategic planning for the social sector.
“It’s a great opportunity. I get to learn about a range of issue areas—education, reproductive health, the criminal justice system, trauma-informed care—because our work varies from project to project. I’ve learned so much about what nonprofits need to be successful and the critical role they play in protecting and promoting equity for vulnerable populations,” she added.
Han’s interest in public health and food issues has grown on the home front in another entrepreneurial venture—this time, with her mother. Before she left Arcata to begin her post-bac work in Berkeley, Han and her mother started a small food business in their hometown. Since immigrating to the U.S. in â€˜92, Han’s mother has been making delicious kimchi and people were always asking to buy some of the family’s supply, she said.
“We started in the Arcata Farmer’s Market and now we are in two grocery stores, a farmstand, and two cafes,” Han said. “Starting a small food business has been one of the most empowering experiences of my life.”