Nutrition/lifestyle program could reach 10,000 New Yorkers

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RIT Professor Barbara Lohse provides free resources on healthy eating and wellness through the Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition. Credit: A. Sue Weisler/RIT

A Rochester Institute of Technology nutrition researcher hopes to reach 10,000 New Yorkers with free resources promoting nutrition and healthy lifestyle tools that have been tested and proven to work.

Barbara Lohse, director of RIT’s Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition, designed the “About Eating” program for people with limited resources and made it available on the Nutrition Education Engineering and Designs (NEEDS) Center website. . Now, thanks to a $194,000 grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, Lohse is able to spread its nutrition education and healthy lifestyle tools statewide and target underserved communities, including Spanish-speaking New Yorkers. Mother Cabrini is one of New York’s largest foundations that funds health care, education, and resources for low-income people.

Lohse will use the funding to make “About Eating” available to the 10 New York State tax regions and the people they serve.

“We’re going to stratify marketing in whatever way is appropriate for each tax region: social media, email, newsletter, listening sessions, or brochures,” Lohse said. “Our hope is that at least 1,000 people in each tax region will click on the link to start the website. Our goal is to reach 10,000 people.

“About Eating” covers topics such as cooking, weight acceptance, hunger and satiety, exercise, and healthy living with lessons that can be completed in any order and multiple times. Participants can choose when to complete the quizzes built into each module to measure learning success.

“One person’s experience with the program can be very different from another person’s depending on their interests,” Lohse said.

Information on healthy lifestyles will be translated into Spanish by the Ibero-American Action League.

“We will do qualitative interviews with Spanish-speaking New Yorkers to see what they think of the program and the translation,” Lohse said.

“About Eating” is available to everyone on the NEEDS Center website, a free community resource offered by RIT’s Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition, and was developed and tested with funding from the United States Department of Agriculture.

The digital program was born out of a multi-state study focused on promoting healthy eating among college students. Lohse, a researcher on the grant, edited content for the website for the underserved population she worked with in Pennsylvania through SNAP-Ed, the educational arm of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, and added a module on exercise.

A randomized controlled study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior in 2015 found that participants improved their ability to budget food, use nutrition labels, and plan healthy meals. Building on the program, Lohse added a sixth section on weight and body size called “About my height”.

Now, “About Eating” is included in RIT’s Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition introductory nutrition courses. Lohse teaches a graduate class called “Diffusion and Implementation Science in Health and Wellness.” Dissemination science, she said, refers to “the timely connection of science-backed programs with organizations and people in need.”

Her work spreading “About Eating” to New Yorkers will enrich her class discussions. “It’s real-life material that I can bring back to class,” Lohse said. “The Mother Cabrini Health Foundation not only helps New Yorkers, it also helps how RIT can educate students, who could ultimately help New Yorkers as they enter the workforce.”

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