Megan Dougherty, a Family and Consumer Science Agent, smiles in front of courthouse.

Megan Dougherty, a Family and Consumer Science agent for Riley County Extension, said proper nutrition and exercise reduces risk of disease.

The many fields related to health and wellness are front and center during this pandemic. Those professions can include doctors who treat patients, scientists who study COVID-19 and those who are working at the community level educating people on how to stay healthy.

In Riley County, Megan Dougherty, 27, nutrition, health and food safety extension agent, helps people understand the importance of paying attention to what they put in their bodies.

Since COVID-19 began spreading across Kansas, she said she has taken an active role in working to keep people informed and healthy.

She is involved with the Flint Hills Wellness Coalition, which works with the health department; and the Food and Farm Council of Manhattan and Riley County. Both of those organizations have taken an active role during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

“From the health and nutrition side, my first thought is how nutrition and health can impact how you would have the virus,” she said. “They say underlying conditions cause you to have a little bit worse (case) of the virus.”

Long before COVID-19 came along, Dougherty worked to educate people on how the preventive measures they take could impact their quality of life.

“Nutrition and living a healthy lifestyle can actually decrease your risk of any kind of chronic disease by 80%,” she said. “It can also reduce your risk of getting cancer by 40%. The studies are out there that really show the impact that nutrition and health have on your everyday life and your long-term outcome.”

While people can’t prevent all disease and illness from happening, there are measures they can take to reduce their risk.

“Whether that’s eating a nutritious diet or getting the recommended minutes of physical activity every day — there are some things that we can control in order to help prevent those circumstances from happening in the future,” she said.

Dougherty’s passion for helping people led her down a path to become a doctor. However, after taking her first nutrition class at K-State she hopped off that path.

“I fell in love with the preventative side of medicine … rather than the treatment side,” she said.

Her goal is to disseminate information people need to get and stay healthy, whether it is by talking to them about nutrition or guiding them through the Medicare Open Enrollment process.

The rewards of the job come when she can make a difference in someone’s life.

“When they come and tell you all these stories and then they walk out with a smile on their face, that’s always a super rewarding part of my job,” she said.

However, the rewards are accompanied by the challenge of getting people to understand that while she can tell them what to do to improve their situation, it is up to them to make the change — she can’t do that for them.

“Generally, by the time they get to me, they’re ready to make those changes, but not always,” she said.

Originally from Colby she was an extension agent in Geary County for two years before moving to the Riley County position nearly three years ago.

It was a move that John Jobe, extension agent for 4-H youth development, said was a benefit for Riley County.

“She’s young but is just incredibly active and ambitious within the community,” he said. “She serves on a number of health-related community boards and panels and advisory groups. She’s currently working with a group … to do what’s called Kitchen Restore. They gather supplies and materials for individuals that are seeking and needing basic kitchen items, pots and pans and utensils and that kind of stuff.

“She’s just very, very ambitious. She’s … definitely a leader in the field of not only family, consumers sciences but public health, which is kind of her passion area.”

Jobe said Doughtery also has worked to dispel misinformation floating around about COVID-19, and the rules, regulations and numbers.

“She has really kind of been a go-to point for that kind of information,” he said. “To have her right here in our own backyard, I feel like we are super fortunate.”