For the past 25 years, Nanna Meyer has tried her best to make a meaningful contribution to the breadth of information available about health and nutrition. A professor of sports nutrition at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, she isn’t really sure how much of a difference she’s made to the nation’s health – not that she’s giving up any time soon.
“We know so much more,” she said. “But we haven’t found a way to get it out of academics and into people’s head.”
A native of Switzerland, Meyer holds a PhD in sports nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist. She assists Olympic athletes in competing at their highest levels.
She’s learned from interacting with those top athletes that, just like the couch potatoes among us, “sometimes they listen, sometimes they don’t.”
How has the field of nutrition changed over the years?
Our field of knowledge has grown over the years. For example, we know now ways to help female athletes fuel themselves better. It’s a question of energy. Female athletes need energy for their sport, but they also need energy for their body physically on top of that. And if we can control that balance, then they can perform at higher levels. Education goes a long way toward keeping them healthy.
How do you motivate Olympic athletes?
It’s the culture of sport, really. And it’s a matter of what the sport is. For instance, short track speed skaters need to be light on the ice. So you have to work with them to keep them from losing too much weight right before the race – that will interfere with their performance. And, of course, during the Olympics, there always seems to be a leader. If the leader is eating well, then the rest of the athletes will follow. But I can say to an athlete, “You are at risk for osteoporosis,” and that means nothing to them. If I say, “You can have a stress fracture next week,” they listen more. But if I tell them, “This will affect your performance,” then they listen. Athletes will do anything to improve their performance.
And the rest of us?
For regular people, it’s more an issue of their health. Often, when I see people, it’s for weight control. So we have to uncover the motivation and find out what interferes. People often have very set habits — they go to their cozy homes, they’re tired, the television is there. Food is an issue; convenience is an issue. So I listen – find the barriers to improve their behavior.
Is there a policy area that you tend to focus on?
I am passionate about knowing where food comes from, and going out of the way to find it outside a grocery store. Finding out where the local food is, and using that as a resource, (is important). People should use CSAs (community supported agriculture) and they should go to the farmers’ markets. We need a change in policy. A family can take $10 to McDonalds and everyone gets a meal. (But) $10 for produce at the grocery store isn’t going to get you very far.
Colorado Springs has a healthy reputation nationwide. Could the city do more?
I was surprised to see Colorado Springs on the cover of Outside magazine. This city is so sprawling, you have to drive everywhere. Bike paths don’t connect – and they are often filled with glass and gravel. You can get two flat tires so easily. And people here, they tend to go home, inside their houses and stay. In other cities – I moved from Salt Lake City – there were wonderful city centers. People could walk to the store, bike places, sit outside a café. It’s something I think the city needs to work on – communities, that sense of community, which also builds a sense of health.
Audio excerpt of the interview with Nanna Meyer.