UTK Former Trainee Spotlight: Ruth Wooten

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Ruth Wooten, an alumnus of the Maternal and Child Health Leadership traineeship, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and completed her Master’s program in Public Health Nutrition at the University of Tennessee. This blog post describes her recent publication/thesis research.

Upon entering graduate school, I was not convinced that I wanted to pursue the thesis track for my degree. I certainly found research interesting but was not positive that I wanted to tackle such a daunting task and bury myself in one specific topic. My major professor, Dr. Betsy Anderson Steeves, had a project for our research lab that was to assess food insecurity rates on campus to contribute to a regional wide survey being administered by members of the Southeastern Universities Consortium on Hunger, Poverty, and Nutrition. I was assigned as the lead on the project and became more invested in the research. Eventually, I decided to take this research project and form it into my thesis research. Instead of only assessing food insecurity rates at our campus, I decided, with the assistance of my committee, that it would be advantageous to assess rates at the three other campuses in our university system to capture a larger population. During my first semester as a MCH Nutrition trainee (spring 2017), I attended our annual MCH grantees meeting and had several conversations with fellow trainees and directors who were assessing similar information at their universities. I was thankful to have a network of researchers pursuing a topic that could unveil information beneficial to the public health nutrition community. The MCH training grant exposed me to a community of graduate students and nutrition professionals from across the country that added value to my research process.

During the fall semester of 2017, an online survey was administered to over 38,000 students to assess their food insecurity rates as well as factors that related to their food insecurity status. We had a fairly good response rate (12.5%)1 for online surveys and resulted in a large amount of data to analyze. I analyzed data and wrote my thesis during the spring semester of 2018. After successfully defending in April 2018, I began finalizing my thesis for publication. The various tasks that I completed as a trainee were helpful in developing my skills to research, write a manuscript, and complete the publication process. Just a few months ago, we were told that the manuscript was accepted for publication. I realized that this research was important and could make an impact on a larger scale than just my department or university.

Without providing too many spoilers, the study revealed that 36% of students were food insecure, meaning that they did not have adequate access to food to live a normal life.1 Several factors were significantly associated with an increased likelihood of experiencing food insecurity, including previous food insecurity before attending college, financial factors, and self-reported grade point average.1 The full study can be found at the citation at the bottom of this post.

Since the completion of this project, several exciting things have happened on campus at the University of Tennessee, including: an on-campus task force for student hunger and homelessness, an interview with Dr. Anderson Steeves on NPR, and the implementation of the 2-item food insecurity screener on intake forms at the student health center.

1Wooten R, Spence M, Colby S, Anderson Steeves E. Assessing food insecurity prevalence and associated factors among college students enrolled in a university in the southeast USA. Public Health Nutrition. 2018. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980018003531

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/public-health-nutrition/article/assessing-food-insecurity-prevalence-and-associated-factors-among-college-students-enrolled-in-a-university-in-the-southeast-usa/C7CBF2D99C7E2A0F568334554787D031

UMN Trainee Spotlight: Kalia Thor

 

kaliathorKalia is a second year MPH Nutrition student, MCH nutrition trainee, and a MNLEND trainee. She completed her undergraduate degree in Nutritional Science from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, OK and her dietetic internship through Iowa State University. She is currently working as a Nutrition Educator for WIC. She has found a passion in helping underserved populations as well as learning more about individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders and helping them with their needs. 

As the semester began in September, I was fortunate enough to have been selected as a trainee in MN LEND which also falls under the MCH bureau. What exactly is MN LEND? MN LEND stands for Minnesota Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities. When I first heard about it, I didn’t know exactly what I was signing myself up for. With my experiences so far as a LEND trainee, it really has allowed me to view things differently from other disciplines outside of nutrition for individuals who may have neurodevelopmental disabilities. During undergrad, one topic that I felt I lacked most in was with those individuals who could possibly a disability and always wondered why their nutrition choices were so limited or why they tend to be so “picky” when it came to meal times. With what I’ve learned so far, I can see a small glimpse of what these individuals see – how their daily activity is affected by their surroundings, what their lens is on their surroundings and their thought process on their surroundings, early signs of developmental delays and more. Being a fellow and with the year continuing, I only hope to continue to learn more about individuals with neurodevelopmental or related disorders. 

As a LEND fellow and working with WIC, I am fortunate enough to be able to work on a project for both organizations. With the project, we hope to identify issues that WIC staff may have in addressing delays with families. We also hope to find partnerships with other programs and helping families find interventions in helping families with identification of possible developmental delays in their young children, often times these delays can be overlooked. This could be as simple as making a referral for other programs that are here in Minnesota known as Help Me Grow or Learn Now, Act Early. With the knowledge I have gained from being a LEND fellow, I have found that the education I learn from MN LEND and working with young children have many benefits and how important this could be in helping families. 

For more information on MN LEND, visit https://lend.umn.edu/.

ASU TRANSCEND Trainee Spotlight: Sydney Pisano

Sydney is currently a first year Master’s student in Nutrition and a MCH trainee at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions. She received her Bachelor’s in Nutrition (Dietetics) in 2018, also from Arizona State University. In the past, she was a Nutrition Instructor for the City of Tempe, where she taught Nutrition classes to people of all ages, from preschool to retirement age. Currently, she is a research assistant for the School Lunch Study at ASU, where salad bars and marketing materials are put in schools to see if fruit and vegetable consumption are affected. In this blog post, she will describe her thesis research on nutrition marketing and how marketing affects children.

In the US today, 70-90% of students are esyndeyxposed to some form of food marketing in schools.1 Under the Healthy-Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 and the “Smart Snacks in School” policy of 2014, participating schools were limited in what they could serve and market to children.2,3 This combined with local district nutrition policies, helped decrease the exposure of high sugar and high calorie foods at schools.2,3 However, current research shows that there has not been a large increase in the consumption of fruits and vegetables even with these new policies enacted.4

While schools are having trouble trying to get children to eat their meals, fast food companies are putting billions of dollars a year into marketing their products.5 When fast food companies market specifically to children, they increase their sales.5 They use bright colors, fun characters and prizes to influence children to want their product.5 One way that fast food companies develop their marketing materials is through interviews and focus groups with their target population.5 By doing this, they can determine exactly what appeals to children and then have their company develop products based on that. Although many successful companies utilize focus groups to help increase their sales, there is currently very little research on how children perceive school nutrition marketing materials

For her thesis, Sydney will be conducting interviews with children in grades 3-12 and determining their opinions on different nutrition marketing materials. The primary goal of her thesis is to determine what children like or dislike about the various marketing materials and if they motivate them to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables.

References

  1. Hales CM, Carroll MD, Fryar CD, Ogden CL. Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth: United States, 2015-2016 Key Findings Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.; 2015.
  2. Johnson DB, Podrabsky M, Rocha A, Otten JJ. Effect of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act on the Nutritional Quality of Meals Selected by Students and School Lunch Participation Rates. JAMA Pediatr. 2016;170(1):e153918.
  3. Smart Snacks in School USDA’s "All Foods Sold in Schools" Standards. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/cn/allfoods-flyer.pdf.
  4. Bourke M, Whittaker PJ, Verma A. Are dietary interventions effective at increasing fruit and vegetable consumption among overweight children? A systematic review. J Epidemiol Community Heal. 2014;68(5):485-490. doi:10.1136/JECH-2013-203238
  5. Harris JL, Marlene Schwartz MB, Munsell CR, et al. Measuring Progress in Nutrition and Marketing to Children and Teens Fast Food FACTS 2013: Measuring Progress in Nutrition and Marketing to Children and Teens.; 2013.