For Ximena Perez- Velazco’s family, food means culture and
community. “Being a first-generation American, I’ve always had a very strong relationship with food,” said the Cheraw resident, whose family relocated to South Carolina from Miami, Florida. “Food is how my parents kept me involved in my Peruvian culture. Furthermore, growing up as an athlete and in a family-based home, sharing meals became a very large part of my community setting, and much more than about just nutrients.”
Traditional Peruvian dishes on the family’s dinner table included shellfish, spices, vegetables and potatoes—ingredients that reflect the main aspect of the Peruvian coastal diet.
“Dinnertime was always all-inclusive,” she said. “Most often I was seated in the kitchen watching my mom or dad prepare our dinner while we engaged in conversation and reflected on our day. It has always been a really important part of my time with my family. In doing this, I learned a lot about cooking and the importance of food as it relates to different cultures and backgrounds, including my own.”
Te senior, who also is president of the student body, wants to share that message with the world. As a human nutrition major, she’s focused on pediatric obesity through her research via the McNair Scholars program, which gives underrepresented undergraduates opportunities for research and financial support.
Statistics estimate that one in four children is now obese. Tough dietitians have specific training and expertise to counsel, support and educate young patients facing obesity, Perez-Velazco discovered there isn’t much information on how pediatricians communicate those practices, and
definitely not on how or if dietitians are included in the pediatric setting.
For her research, entitled “Access to Nutrition Education in Public Health Care: Pediatric Weight Management,” Perez-Velazco conducted a cross study: she placed registered dietitians on-site at low-income pediatric clinics.
“We examined the barriers and limitations to giving nutrition education to patients and parents, and assessed how the inclusion of on-site dietitians would help overcome those limitations,” she explained.
She aced her research presentation in front of peers and faculty at the 100th anniversary celebration of Winthrop’s human nutrition program.
“I’ve gone bungee-jumping and cliff-diving, but that’s the experience I’ll remember most,” she said, laughing. “What I have enjoyed the most about the nutrition program at Winthrop has been its versatility in the subject of nutrition. In addition, our nutrition students are very lucky to receive so much support for their research.”
Now Perez-Velazco’s nutrition attention has turned to the other end of the age spectrum: geriatric nutrition. She currently interns at White Oak Manor of Rock Hill, shadowing the registered dietitian. She interviews residents on their dining experience, observes the implementation of care plans and sits in on family-doctor interaction meetings.
“Te most rewarding part of my internship is knowing that I get to play a very small role in making the geriatric phase of a person’s life a little bit easier,” she said. “Te residents at White Oak Manor are so lovely, and I am privileged to get to know them after they have lived such rich and meaningful lives.”
Perez-Velazco hopes to become a professor of community and minority health as it relates to nutrition.