SU professor to conduct novel research on weight management in college students
SU professor to conduct novel research on weight management in college studentsJune 07, 2005Carol K. Masiclatclkim@syr.edu
Tanya Horacek, associate professor of nutrition and hospitality management in the College of Human Services and Health Professions, has received part of a five-year, $1.13 million grant from the U. S. Department of Agriculture, for a study titled “Behavior Change for Obesity Prevention in Young Adults.” The study will focus on college students, ages 18-24. This age group has not traditionally been included in the dialogue about overweight people and obesity, since it falls between the more commonly studied children/adolescent (ages 6-19) and adult (ages 20 and up) age groups.
Horacek, the principal investigator for Syracuse University, is part of a team of nutrition experts from eight institutions conducting the study, which will be led by the University of Rhode Island. The other participating institutions are the University of Wisconsin, University of Nebraska, University of Maine, Michigan State University, Pennsylvania State University, Tuskegee University and South Dakota State University.
Horacek received $90,000 of the grant, which will be used to pay graduate assistant staff and compensate subjects. Sarah Dayton, assistant professor of consumer studies in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, will also contribute to the study. Dayton, a Ph. D. candidate in the Instructional Design Development and Evaluation program in the School of Education, is helping to design the study’s Web site.
Over the course of 15 months, the team will measure the effectiveness of the non-diet approach to weight management. The non-diet approach emphasizes eating in response to physiological cues like hunger and fullness, and increasing body acceptance. Students will be assessed at the beginning of the study, at three months and again at 15 months. Study participants will complete a three-month, interactive, Web-based educational curriculum on the non-diet approach. The study’s control group will receive no instruction or intervention, but will be assessed at the same intervals. Assessments in the form of online questionnaires and fitness evaluations will be conducted by the Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management in HSHP and at other partner institutions.
College students have a number of unique factors that make them susceptible to becoming overweight. “Genetics is a cause, of course, but there are also a number of dietary causes, such as poor nutritional choices, lack of variety in the diet and alcohol consumption,” says Horacek. In addition, lifestyle changes typical of new college students can be a factor. The lack of regularly scheduled meals, late night eating and skipping meals can take its toll. “This group is an interesting one-it’s a transitional group. Many of them are newly independent and this is the first time they have been responsible for feeding themselves.” The study will utilize the transtheoretical model of behavior change, which holds that behavioral change occurs over a series of stages, and identification of an individual’s stage is critical to designing a successful change application. In keeping with this, the study will include population-based interventions and the use of materials that are individually tailored to the students’ motivational readiness to change.
The ultimate aim of the study is to determine whether interventions reduce weight gain in participants over the course of the study, compared to the control group. It will also test interventions’ effects on participants’ body images, fruit and vegetable intakes and capacities for aerobic exercise. Effective intervention techniques may be developed into a for-credit class for national dissemination. It may also support the development of other population-specific interventions to prevent obesity.
Horacek hopes students will learn what she calls “eating competence,” an approach to nutrition that incorporates responsible choices, including increasing intake of both fruits and vegetables, introducing a greater variety of foods and challenging old eating habits.
An estimated 2,000 subjects from the eight institutions are expected to take part in the study when it begins in fall 2007. Until then, Horacek and the rest of the team will finalize the study curriculum, conduct online focus groups and screen potential subjects before recruitment begins in spring 2007.