Find Your Passion: Diabetes Advocate Changes How UA Eats

Tyler House
Lewis, a diabetes advocate, has testified before Congress about the need for more research on the disease. (Photo by Samantha Hernandez)

By Miranda Harbin

Whether or not you have met Dana Lewis, if you are a member of The University of Alabama community, she’s probably changed the way you eat lunch.

It all started with a simple request. Lewis, a University of Alabama senior who has Type 1 diabetes, wanted to administer the right amount of insulin to herself while eating in the dining halls on campus.

To do so, she needed to know how many carbohydrates are in her meals. The information, at that time, was only available through the Bama Dining Web site. Lewis says it was nearly impossible for her to go online and decide what to eat the next day and stick with it. She asked her friends to go online and plan out their meals for the week.

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“They failed miserably,” Lewis says. The easiest and most accessible way, she says, for students to view the nutritional information was either inside the dining hall or right before entering the dining hall.

“As a college student, food should be a no-brainer,” she says.

Lewis worked with Bama Dining to place nutrition labels with the entrees in the dining hall. She says she feels this not only helps students with specific dietary confinements and allergies, but also those students who want to avoid the dreaded “Freshmen 15” weight gain. Her simple suggestion to Bama Dining escalated into an internship with their marketing department, which was a perfect fit for Lewis, a public relations major.

A.J. DeFalco, the resident district manager for Bama Dining, says Bama Dining wants to foster a relationship like they have with Dana with all students. Bama Dining, DeFalco says, wants students to feel as if their kitchen is the students’ kitchen.

During the spring of 2008, Bama Dining continued making the data more accessible by placing kiosks containing the nutritional information outside of the dining halls. This works, Lewis said, because students are able to make a decision about their nutrition without having to pay to go into the dining facility or visit a Web site.

Bama Dining was the first Aramark location to have nutritional labels at both the point of service and on their Web site.

Lewis said, “My goal is to make sure that the information is there for those who want and need it.”

Lewis took her advocacy further by creating a class for students with diabetes who are transitioning to college life.

Lewis’ class, which had its debut last semester, centers on healthy living for college students with diabetes. The class is a casual seminar that helps students understand the relationship of diabetes with academic, social, nutrition and emotional changes during their first year of college.

Dana Lewis
Lewis uses a kiosk to obtain dietary information. (Photo by Samantha Hernandez)

Lewis said she wanted to teach about the transition because there are not any resources available for students with diabetes who are adjusting to college life. The class is primarily about helping people find the resources that are available to them. Lewis teaches the class, along with three UA professors – Drs. Rebecca Kelly, director of health promotions and wellness, Pamela Payne-Foster, deputy director of the Rural Health Institute, and Felicia Wood, associate professor in the Capstone College of Nursing.

“Dana Lewis was the spark behind the fall 2008 Living with Diabetes Course,” says Kelly. “As an innovative student leader, and an individual living each day with Type 1 diabetes, Dana is passionate about educating others about diabetes.”

Lewis’ diabetes advocacy reaches beyond the UA campus. She has testified before Congress at the request of Sen. Ted Kennedy about the need for diabetes research and the needs of people with diabetes. During the summer, she also worked with the American Diabetes Association in Washington, D.C., as an intern. She previously has served as an advocate for youth living with diabetes, traveling nationwide and to Africa, Germany and Hungary to speak on their behalf.

Currently, Lewis is working with Close Concerns, a diabetes consulting firm, as a public relations consultant and social media strategist. She also spoke at the 2008 World Diabetes Day in New York City.

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This story is part of the Find Your Passion feature section of the UA home page. For more stories, please visit Find Your Passion or Crimson Spotlight. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.