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Addressing Social Disparities Through Dietetics

Nutrition, Dietetics, & Food Science Featured Grad Student

Melinda Morco-Sieng, originally from the Philippines, is a graduate student in the College of Life Sciences' combined dietetics internship and master's degree program.
Photo by Lance Good

Melinda Morco-Sieng, a graduate student in the College of Life Sciences’ combined dietetics internship and master’s degree program, is a fantastic cook. She can whip up Pad-Thai from ramen packets, combine canned foods to make a delicious soup, and readily transforms leftovers into mouth-watering meals.

Morco-Sieng was born in the Philippines and moved to the United States when she was 10 years old. Moving to the U.S. came with difficulties which she has described as a “backwards rags-to-riches” story.

When Morco-Sieng and her family moved from Manila to California, they traded their life of wealth and security to live in a garage with no kitchen. As a teenager, Morco-Sieng watched her mother overcome their difficult living conditions with her natural talent of turning canned foods and non-perishables into heart-warming meals to feed the family. Later, when Morco-Sieng served in the New Mexico, Albuquerque, mission, she observed the significant health disparities between those of different socioeconomic status. Throughout her mission, Morco-Sieng came to understand that food was one avenue where disparities in economic status were highly visible. It was this observation that sparked her decision to study dietetics.

“I’ve lived through that,” Morco-Sieng says as she discusses her desire to guide others who may be in circumstances where healthy eating may be difficult.

In her combined internship and master’s program, Morco-Sieng has worked in rigorous clinical rotations around Utah, some of which target marginalized groups. Her work with these groups further cemented her belief that regardless of an individual’s circumstances, there are ways to make healthy and delicious meals.

Melinda Morco-Sieng saw large social disparities centralized around food while serving a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This has inspired her to use dietetics to solve some of these issues.
Photo by Lance Good

Morco-Sieng often finds herself daydreaming and jots down notes about things that spark her curiosity. Academic research is where she uses her curiosity to fuel her search for answers about why things happen the way they do, as well as to explore solutions to current issues. “Putting humanity’s answers together and finding which answer is closest to the truth” brings Morco-Sieng closer to God. She is currently involved in a systematic review on dietary acculturation in the United States, which focuses on how international students adjust their diet when they come to study in the U.S. “If we can figure out what these students are struggling with,” she says, “then we can help them adjust to life here.” She hopes that her findings may help international students in the future.

Morco-Sieng has demonstrated a great passion and love for helping others through dietetics. She wants people to understand that their body is a gift from God. “We get to wear [our] body every day—this ridiculously complex, beautiful body that is powerful, full of feeling, can speak, and can love.”

The challenges Morco-Sieng overcame have driven her to continuously learn and serve others. She wants to encourage others who come from difficult circumstances to “fight today because there are going to be days when you’re not solely living off canned food.” She smiles and adds, “but... there’s always still canned food for you if you want it.”

Morco-Sieng credits her supervisor, Dr. Rickelle Richards, for her progress in the field: “She is part of the reason I am who I am. All my accomplishments are because of people like her; so as far as I’m concerned, any successes I have, are hers too.”