New study aims to put students on road to healthier eating

      By RUDI HEMPE,
      CELS News Editor

The national problem of getting young people to eat healthier, control their weight and become more active physically is a tough nut, as educators are finding out, but researchers in the CELS Department of Nutrition & Food Sciences (NFS) are not about to give up.

YEAHInstead they are ready to embark on a national study to get college-age students to eat healthier and address weight issues and they need 186 volunteers to help them.

The new study is part of a multi-state project using a USDA grant administered by the South Dakota State University and involving 14 institutions including URI.

If the goal of the program sounds familiar at URI—it is. Last year a similar study was conducted by NFS using a web-based program. The idea was to get students to eat healthier foods, increase their physical activity and reduce unwanted weight gain.

According to Dr. Geoffrey Greene of NSF, the program was a success in the eating part and it did keep participants from reducing their physical activities, “however it did not have any effect on body weight—everybody gained weight.”

Back to the drawing boards.

But this time a different approach will be taken says Greene and his graduate student Jessica Bennett who is coordinator of the RI project. The new project called Y.E.A.H. ( Young Adults Eating & Active for Health) is designed to be far more intensive and is aimed at addressing issues such as healthy eating, increasing physical activity and stress management which are important to the students.

In addition, thanks to a CELS CARES grant, the project has been able to put together a Power Point presentation and a 10-minute video, the latter in conjunction with URI Dining Services.

The Power Point presentation will help participants make healthy choices when it comes to selecting foods in supermarkets.

The video follows two students in URI dining halls Butterfield and Mainfare as they make their choices for lunch and dinner. The video shows there are options to pizza and hamburgers and fries. The video, for example shows the choice of sweet potato fries over conventional ones, urges the choices of fruits, vegetables (aim for a variety of colors) and whole grain foods. Portion size is also stressed.

Greene said the last study suffered because there was inadequate funding to provide more intervention. “We were not able to address all the concerns of the students.”

One of those issues that arose is that the students needed healthier ways to deal with stress, said Greene.

As in the previous study, the volunteers will be divided into two groups—one a control and the other one an intervention group. All intervention will be done on line—students will also get a series of short messages called nudges to help them maintain a behavior change, said Bennett. The text messages, about three a month, will remind participants to revisit the special website and to complete as many activities as possible.

Besides getting gobs of information on healthy eating, the students will be urged to be physically active, but in a low key way—they don’t have to get in training for a marathon or wear out a treadmill for example but they are encouraged to get out and walk. “The biggest thing is to not make exercise a pain. We want to encourage doable, achievable goals—something they can continue when they are no longer involved in the program,” said Greene.

Bennett and Greene are looking for 186 participants (that’s the magic number for URI as determined by the national study which will involve 2,232.) Bennett says they have a head start in recruiting students via announcements made in classes last semester. Flyers and other publicity such as this article also attract volunteers.

“Most students who volunteer in this are somewhat interested in health but many are not particularly concerned about their weight,” said Greene. “For example more than half the males are happy with their weight but might want to bulk up a bit so their goal is a somewhat healthier lifestyle. We also get a lot of people participating because they want to be part of research.” Bennett and Greene are striving for a balance of males and females in the study.

The criteria participants must meet to enroll are: They cannot be nutrition or kinesiology students; they cannot be currently enrolled in a nutrition class; they can’t have health conditions that could interfere with the conduct of the program and they must be freshmen, sophomores or juniors—no seniors allowed. The latter is important because the project involves a follow-up in the spring of 2012 and current seniors most likely will not be here at that time. At the start of the program, all participants will have appointments to come in and have their weight, height and waist size measured.

All participants will get a stipend of $75 if they finish the entire program. The stipends are paid out in stages.

To apply to the Y.E.A.H. Project go to or contact Jessica at

Published: January 13, 2011