You are here

Food acts as medicine, says Leder Scholar

Hopkins student group teaches nutrition to local youth
Posted March 27, 2017

Giuliana Rivera Casul teaches about nutrition at local elementary schools.


Rivera, the Ethan and Karen Leder Scholar, studies neuroscience on a pre-med track. Rivera, the Ethan and Karen Leder Scholar, studies neuroscience on a pre-med track.

One quarter of Baltimore residents don't have easy access to stores stocking healthy foods, and empty calories from sugar and solid fats make up 40% of the daily diet of American adolescents.

These statistics motivate the volunteer work of Giuliana Rivera Casul, A&S, Class of 2018, who is co-president of Food as Medicine, the Johns Hopkins student group providing after-school and school-wide lesson plans about nutrition and active lifestyles, at two Baltimore City elementary schools.

"Every time you drink or eat you are either fighting a disease or feeding it," according to Rivera, who received the Ethan and Karen Leder Scholarship and studies neuroscience on a pre-med track.

"And it's so important to teach kids at an early age to eat healthy because it's when they're creating habits that they're going to reinforce over the years, " says Rivera, who also works as a research assistant for a School of Medicine study about childhood development following cochlear implants.

Food as Medicine has 35-40 members who rotate in offering programming every day, and the group operates in cooperation with the Johns Hopkins Center for Social Concern and the YMCA of Central Maryland.

The lesson plans are typically interactive, involving exercises and taste tests to get the young students engaged, explains Rivera.

"Being part of the Food is Medicine program really helps me to give back, which makes me really proud of the work I'm doing, " says Rivera, referencing the Leder scholarship.

"The fact of the matter is I wouldn't have been able to study here at Johns Hopkins had I not received that scholarship," she says. "I think it's even more inspiring that someone who does not know me was willing to invest in me."

The native Puerto Rican also credits her parents – who operate a farm and whose decisions for healthier eating set an example and ignited Rivera’s passion for nutrition – for the sacrifices they have made to help her pursue her education.