USM and Delta OPRU partner to fight obesity
Published: Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 01:12
It is no secret that the University of Southern Mississippi prides itself on its passion for participating in leading research projects across the country. USM’s Department of Nutrition and Food Systems has been a partner of leading research projects in Mississippi regarding eating habits and patterns of Mississippians for more than 17 years.
For the past four years, the department has partnered with the Delta Obesity Prevention Research Unit (Delta OPRU) with goals of educating those in the Delta region of the state through two different nutrition education programs about eating behaviors paired with attempts to change negative eating habits.
Carol Connell, associate professor and lead scientist for the Delta OPRU, said the unit hopes to accomplish change and awareness among those living in the Delta regarding their eating habits.
“With the high rates of obesity and obesity-related chronic disease in our state and especially in the more rural counties including the Delta, this research has the potential to have a huge impact on the health of the population,” Connell said. “We hope that our findings will reveal that one or both of the nutrition education programs are effective in changing dietary habits. If that is the case, we will then be thinking of ways to disseminate one or both programs to a larger audience.”
The Delta OPRU is a nutrition intervention research project in which the researchers are testing the efficacy of two different nutrition education programs with regards to changing eating habits among people who agreed to participate in the research. The programs target mainly women’s volunteer and religious organizations, with a few men participants. The researchers wanted to determine which of the two education programs would result in people improving their diet the most in terms of following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
“In one program we focused on changing only two eating behaviors: eating less foods with added sugars and less high fat foods,” Connell said. “In the other program, we focused on changing the two in the first program along with three other eating behaviors: eating more fruits, eating more vegetables and eating more whole grains. We wanted to see if it was easier and more effective to change only a few habits compared to changing several at once.”
Sara Pollard, a junior nutrition and food systems major at USM, said the work in the Delta has proven to be some of the most important work done regarding the eating habits and health of Mississippians and those in the surrounding areas.
“I think the work being done in the Delta is going to be really beneficial because it is important to understand the role that food plays in our overall health,” Pollard said. “Personally, I pay attention to information about my area a lot more than information from other areas, so having a research project like this done so close to home will hopefully have a more influential impact on Mississippians.”
Although changing eating habits can be difficult, Connell hopes the program will change lives and believes it has the power to do so.
“Eventually, we hope that participants and their families and friends will benefit through better diet and physical activity,” Connell said.
This project is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. The team is expecting October 2012 through September 2013 to be its last project year. Students have been trained and hired by the team and have been assisting with research.
Students can keep up with research findings via journal articles and by visiting www.usm.edu/nutrition.