As a high school athlete in cross country and track, Kyle Mehan kept getting injured.
The Lowell Catholic High School runner never broke a bone, but he got one strain, sprain and tendon injury after another, from shin splints and plantar fasciitis to sore knees – all inflammatory injuries.
“I was running seven days a week: I didn’t know about rest days as a concept. I wanted to be really good, so I just ran constantly,” he says.
Mehan spent a lot of time at the chiropractor’s office and thought he’d like to study sports medicine in college. Then, he found out that he’d have to take physics again.
“Physics was my worst class in high school,” he says, laughing. “And I knew that fitness and nutrition go hand in hand, so I thought if I wasn’t going to go into sports medicine, I’d go into the nutrition side of it.”
He began doing nutrition research on his own – often when he was supposed to be doing homework. He decided he had found his path.
Now, he’s a senior nutritional science major and Honors College student, and taking some graduate classes that will count toward a master’s degree in public health with a focus on dietetics. That degree path, including 1,200 hours of supervised practice in nutrition, will qualify him to sit for the Registered Dietitian Exam.
Based on what Mehan has learned about nutrition so far, he’s adopted a vegan diet and no longer battles inflammation. For his honors capstone, he’s doing a project with Mill City Grows, an urban farming nonprofit in Lowell, collecting data for a food assessment in the city, especially for residents enrolled in federal food assistance programs such as SNAP and WIC.
An honors seminar, Graphic Novels for Science and Medicine, taught him that telling stories in visual form can be a powerful way to convey public health messages. For his final project, he wrote a graphic novella aimed at introducing veganism to children and teens, so they can take charge of their own health earlier than he did.
“In America, many of our worst chronic diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, are related to animal product consumption, so I’m trying to say, ‘Hey, you can eat plants and do something to actively prevent these problems,’” he says. “You actually have some weapons in your arsenal, and those weapons are in your fridge.”
He plans to go on and earn a master’s degree in public health with a concentration in dietetics. The unique program at UMass Lowell prepares students to take the Registered Dietitian Exam, while also placing dietetics in the larger context of public health.
He likes what he’s learned so far in his first graduate class, Social and Behavioral Determinants of Health. The class will count toward both his undergraduate and graduate degrees.
“That class has been really insightful,” he says. “We’re looking at the upstream causes of a lot of social disparities, and how we could possibly remedy them.”