Creating a Culture of Health at Rutgers’ Newest Institute

By Michael Hill

The lieutenant governor and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation helped Rutgers cut the ribbon on the nearly 80,000-square foot New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health.

“You’re going to change the model from treatment to wellness. You’re going to teach us all the value of eating right, of taking care of ourselves, and therefore, in the long run change the healthcare model for not just New Jersey, but the world,” Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno said.

“This building really represents what we mean when we talk about building a culture of health,” said Robert Wood Johnson Chief of Staff Robin Mockenhaupt.

Among the Institute’s features; a living wall of plants to improve indoor air quality; the Center for Lipid Research; the Center for Health and Human Performance; and the Center for Childhood Nutrition Education and Research.

The Institute encourages children to share recipes with parents. For adults and the whole family, there’s the healthy eating courtyard called Harvest, where a chef cooks tuna and veggies for Scott Loveless.

“This is great. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a university place where I can have my own tuna fixed for me, right in front of me,” said Loveless.

“You can not make a wrong choice in Harvest. It’s minimally processed food. It’s very healthy. It’s really remarkable how good food can taste,” said Founding Director Peter Gillies.

The institute has been five years in the making and launches the day after a study found processed red meats can contribute to cancer. Dr. Gillies says nutrition is all about balance.

“It’s important that we not demonize one food just because of some initial research that comes out,” he said.

The Institute cost $55 million to build with funds coming from private donations and taxpayers, but the number of lives it intends to save are countless.

“If you look at the increasing costs that we see for health care in the next ten years, probably half of that is related, one way or another, to the obesity epidemic in this country. As a physician, I can tell you that it’s not a health problem. I can’t give you a pill for this one, It’s a social problem. It’s a social problem. It’s a behavioral problem. And you’re not going to solve this just by approaching it with a medical solution,” said Rutgers President Dr. Robert Barchi.

The Institute’s approach through food, nutrition and exercise is prevention.