OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of public health and human sciences

Social emotional learning interventions show promise, warrant further study

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Developing a child’s social and emotional learning skills in early childhood is seen as a key to the child’s success in school, but researchers are still working to understand which interventions most effectively boost those skills.

Providing training for early childhood education teachers, embedding direct instruction and practice of targeted skills into daily practice and engaging families in these efforts help to boost the success of these kinds of interventions, Oregon State University researchers suggest in a new paper.

“We know these skills are essential for children, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about ways to enhance them,” said Megan McClelland, the Katherine E. Smith Healthy Children and Families Professor in Human Development and Family Sciences in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “The results to date have been mixed.”

“We don’t yet know what the ‘key ingredients’ are here, ” added McClelland, the paper’s lead author, “but we do have enough evidence to know we need to keep doing this work.”

The paper was published today in a special issue of the journal Future of Children that is focused on social and emotional learning. McClelland is a nationally recognized expert in child development. Co-authors of the paper are Shauna Tominey, an assistant professor of practice at OSU, Sara Schmitt of Purdue University and Robert Duncan of University of California, Irvine.

Much of McClelland’s research focuses on the important role of self-regulation skills – the social and emotional skills that help children pay attention, follow directions, stay on task, form healthy friendships and persist through difficulty.  

She has developed and tested social and emotional learning interventions focused on games such as “Red Light, Purple Light,” which is similar to “Red Light, Green Light.” A teacher uses construction-paper circles to represent stop and go. Children follow color cues, such as purple represents stop, orange signals go; then switch to the opposite, where purple means go and orange means stop.

Additional rules are added later to increase the complexity of the game. The game requires children to listen and remember instructions, pay attention to the adult leading the game and resist natural inclinations to stop or go. 

In the new paper, McClelland and her co-authors reviewed the theory and science behind a number of social emotional learning interventions in early childhood and found that while several such interventions hold promise, more research is needed to understand variations in results among different groups of children, including why some children appear to benefit more than others and whether the programs are cost effective.

There’s also a general lack of long-term studies that might give researchers a clearer picture of the programs’ effectiveness, McClelland said. Longer-term studies would also help explain “sleeper” effects, where short-term effects are small or not significant, but long-term effects, such as predictors of high school or college completion, are significant and substantive. 

“I look at the long term: Did the child complete college? Were they able to stay out of the criminal justice system?” McClelland said. “Those are some of the most important indicators of the social emotional learning.”

Overall, studies in the field indicate that children from low-income families tend to show the most gains from social emotional learning interventions, but results for other groups of students are more mixed, although a number of studies show positive effects. 

The review also showed that the most successful interventions tend to be low cost, easily implemented, are fun for kids, including training for teachers, and can be built in to classroom lessons on literacy and math, McClelland said.

“The bottom line here is that there’s a lot of subtlety to the findings of this work so far,” she said. “Fortunately, we do have some ideas about what’s working, and we have some ideas about where we need to go next in the field.”

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Megan McClelland, 541-737-9225, megan.mcclelland@oregonstate.edu

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Megan McClelland

Megan McClelland

Maritime worker safety the focus of new OSU-NIOSH partnership

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences has established a formal partnership with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Center for Maritime Safety and Health Studies to work together to improve safety and health conditions in maritime workplaces in the United States.

The college’s researchers will work with the federal agency, which falls under the umbrella of the Centers for Disease Control, to study and address occupational and safety issues in the maritime industry; turn research results into practice to prevent workplace injuries; and share their findings with other researchers and within the industry.

Laurel Kincl, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at OSU, and current and past graduate students have been working with NIOSH for several years on maritime safety issues, including health and safety in the commercial fishing and seafood processing industries.

The new partnership, which runs through March 2022, formalizes Kincl’s connections with NIOSH researchers and provides more opportunities for OSU to participate in the federal agency’s national research and outreach programs.

“This partnership elevates the college and the university’s research program in marine studies and provides additional visibility and recognition for the work Dr. Kincl and other OSU researchers are doing in this arena,” said Marie Harvey, associate dean for research and graduate program in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “It’s a wonderful opportunity.”

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Laurel Kincl, 541-737-1445, Laurel.kincl@oregonstate.edu

Study: The family dog could help boost physical activity for kids with disabilities

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The family dog could serve as a partner and ally in efforts to help children with disabilities incorporate more physical activity into their daily lives, a new study from Oregon State University indicates.

In a case study of one 10-year-old boy with cerebral palsy and his family’s dog, researchers found the intervention program led to a wide range of improvements for the child, including physical activity as well as motor skills, quality of life and human-animal interactions. 

“These initial findings indicate that we can improve the quality of life for children with disabilities, and we can get them to be more active,” said Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and corresponding author on the study. “And in this case, both are happening simultaneously, which is fantastic.”

The researchers detailed the child’s experience in the adapted physical activity intervention program in a case study just published in the journal Animals. Co-authors are Monique Udell of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences; Craig Ruaux of the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine; Samantha Ross of the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences; Amanda Tepfer of Norwich University and Wendy Baltzer of Massey University in New Zealand. The research was supported by the Division of Health Sciences at OSU. 

Children with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy spend significantly less time participating in physical activity compared to their peers and are considered a health disparity group, meaning they generally face more health concerns than their peers.

Researchers designed an adapted physical activity, animal-assisted intervention where the family dog would serve as a partner with the child in physical activities designed to help improve overall physical activity, motor skills and quality of life. The family dog is a good choice for this type of intervention because the animal is already known to the child and there is an existing relationship – and both the dog and the child will benefit from the activities, MacDonald said. 

Researchers took initial assessments of the child’s daily physical activity, motor skills and quality of life before starting the eight-week intervention. A veterinarian examined the dog’s fitness for participation and the human-animal interaction between the dog, a year-old Pomeranian, and the child was also assessed. 

Then the pair began the eight-week intervention, which included a supervised physical activity program once a week for 60 minutes and participation in activities such as brushing the dog with each hand; playing fetch and alternating hands; balancing on a wobble board; and marching on a balancing disc. 

“The dog would also balance on the wobble board, so it became a challenge for the child – if the dog can do it, I can, too,” MacDonald said. “It was so cool to see the relationship between the child and the dog evolve over time. They develop a partnership and the activities become more fun and challenging for the child. It becomes, in part, about the dog and the responsibility of taking care of it.”

The dog and the child also had “homework,” which included brushing the dog, playing fetch and going on daily walks. The child wore an accelerometer to measure physical activity levels at home. 

At the conclusion of the intervention, researchers re-assessed and found that the child’s quality of life had increased significantly in several areas, including emotional, social and physical health, as assessed by the child as well as the parent. In addition, the child’s sedentary behavior decreased and time spent on moderate to vigorous activity increased dramatically.

“The findings so far are very encouraging,” MacDonald said. “There’s a chance down the road we could be encouraging families to adopt a dog for the public health benefits. How cool would that be?” 

The researchers also found that the relationship between the dog and the child improved over the course of the therapy as they worked together on various tasks. The dog’s prosocial, or positive, behavior toward the child is a sign of wellbeing for both members of the team, said Udell, who is director of the Human-Animal Interaction Lab at OSU.

“A closer child-dog bond increases the likelihood of lasting emotional benefits and may also facilitate long-term joint activity at home, such as taking walks, simply because it is enjoyable for all involved,” she said. 

This study is one of the first to evaluate how a dog’s behavior and wellbeing are affected by their participation in animal-assisted therapy, Udell noted. From an animal welfare standpoint, it is promising that the dog’s behavior and performance on cognitive and physical tasks improved alongside the child’s.

Though the case study features only one child, the research team recruited several families with children with disabilities and their dogs to participate in the larger project, which was designed in part to test the design and methodology of the experiment and determine if it could be implemented on a larger scale. 

Based on the initial results, researchers hope to pursue additional studies involving children with disabilities and their family dogs, if funding can be secured. They would like to examine other benefits such a pairing might have, including the sense of responsibility the child appears to gain during the course of the intervention.

“We’re also learning a lot from our child participants,” MacDonald said. “They’re teaching us stuff about friendship with the animal and the responsibility of taking care of a pet, which allows us to ask more research questions about the influence of a pet on the child and their family.” 

Oregon families interested in learning more about future research projects related to this work can contact Megan MacDonald, megan.macdonald@oregonstate.edu, to be included on an interest list.

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Megan MacDonald, 541-737-3273, Megan.MacDonald@oregonstate.edu

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Researcher Megan MacDonald

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Nutrient offers hope to stop deadly march toward cirrhosis, liver cancer

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study suggests that one type of omega 3 fatty acid offers people who are obese or have a poor diet a chance to avoid serious liver damage.

This is something that no available drug can accomplish, and can otherwise only be obtained by significant weight loss based on a very healthy diet.

The findings, published by researchers from Oregon State University today in PLOS ONE, were based on a study done with laboratory animals. They could be significant, researchers say, since millions of people in the developed world try, and fail, to sustain weight loss or eat an optimal diet.

Supplements of DHA, one of the most critically important of the omega 3 fatty acids, were shown to stop the progression of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, into more serious and life-threatening health problems such as cirrhosis or liver cancer. This took place even with the continued consumption in lab animals of what scientists call a “western” diet – one that’s high in fat, sugar and cholesterol.

NASH, which is characterized by liver inflammation, oxidative stress and fibrosis, is a substantial risk factor for cirrhosis and liver cancer. It’s predicted to be the leading cause of liver transplants by 2020, and the FDA currently has no approved medical treatments for it.

Based in large part on consuming the “western diet,” nearly 80 million adults and 13 million children in the United States are obese, and about 30 percent of the nation’s population is estimated to have some form of chronic fatty liver disease.

“Considering there are no FDA-approved ways to stop NASH progression, other than weight loss therapy, this supplement may be of significant help,” said Donald Jump, a professor in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute.

“In the time frame that we studied, DHA supplementation was not able to achieve full remission of NASH, but it did stop it from getting worse. NASH is a serious disease, an enormous health care cost and we need to put the brakes on it. There’s clear evidence this might help.”

Over one 10-year study period, cirrhosis and liver-related deaths occurred in 20 percent and 12 percent of NASH patients, respectively.

Research has also shown that when humans with NASH are examined, they have very low levels of omega 3 fatty acids. When those levels are raised, the disease progression stops.

Omega 3 fatty acids regulate important biological pathways, including fatty acid synthesis, oxidation, and breakdown of triglycerides, or fats in the blood. A natural nutrient, DHA appears to be one of the most significant of the omega 3 fatty acids, and plays a role in repairing liver damage.

The highest levels of DHA are found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, and to a much lesser extent in some foods such as poultry, liver, egg yolks, and some types of algae. DHA is also increasingly being included in some prenatal vitamin and mineral formulas because of studies showing its critical importance to a developing fetus.

The current medical approach to NASH is based on lifestyle management, including diet and exercise. If successful and sustained, research indicates such approaches can completely reverse liver damage. However, in this study researchers noted that “this treatment, while ideal for clinical use, is likely not sustainable in NASH patients due to poor compliance.”

EPA, another valuable omega 3 fatty acid, has not been found to lower liver fat and fibrosis in humans, Jump said, probably due to the poor conversion in humans of EPA to DHA.

DHA is a readily available supplement and safe to use, researchers say. Referring to the use of DHA supplementation to address problems with NASH, the researchers said in their report that, “This scenario will likely be used clinically since patient compliance to low-fat, low-sucrose dietary recommendations has historically been poor.”

This research was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health. 

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Healthy recipes and effective social marketing campaign improve eating habits

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Food Hero social marketing campaign is an effective way to help low-income families eat more nutritious meals through fast, tasty, affordable and healthy recipes, two new research studies from Oregon State University have found.

Food Hero was launched by the OSU Extension Service in 2009 in an effort to encourage healthy eating among low-income Oregonians. The initiative includes several components, such as a website, www.foodhero.org, with information in both English and Spanish; Food Hero recipe taste-tasting events in schools and communities across Oregon; and a library of healthy recipes that have all been taste-tested and many approved by children.

“The success of the program is by far exceeding the scope of what we envisioned when we started,” said Melinda Manore, a professor of nutrition in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU and co-author of the studies. “Getting people to change their diet and eating behavior, especially when they do not have much money, is very difficult, and this program is helping to do that.”

The social marketing program is led by Lauren Tobey of Extension Family and Community Health at OSU, and Tobey is lead author of the studies. Food Hero is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education, or SNAP-Ed. SNAP-Ed focuses on obesity prevention within low-income households.

One of the new studies, published in the journal Nutrients, explores how Food Hero was developed and tested. The goal of the program is to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among those eligible for SNAP benefits in Oregon, with a particular focus on low-income mothers.

The campaign’s strategy includes providing clearly focused messages, writing in plain language, being positive and realistic with the messaging, and offering simple tools for action that include an explanation of what to do and how to do it. The campaign has been effective in part because educators stayed focused on their target audience, the researchers said.

The other study, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, examines Food Hero’s recipe project in more depth. The recipes used in the Food Hero campaign are formulated to be healthy, tasty and kid-friendly. To date, the Food Hero recipes have been accessed millions of times via the website and social media sites such as Pinterest.

“All of the recipes are simple to make and cost-effective for families on tight budgets,” Tobey said. “Many families can’t afford to have a recipe fail or try an untested recipe the family may not end up liking.”

The recipes also are being tested with children who complete surveys or participate in a vote. If at least 70 percent of participating children say they “like the taste” of a recipe, it is considered “kid-approved.” The program has collected more than 20,000 assessments from kids who have tried Food Hero recipes at school or at community events. About 36 percent of the tested recipes have received the “kid-approved” rating to date.

“When our nutrition educators say to the children, ‘Would you like to try this for us and tell us what you think?’ it empowers them,” Manore said. “It also is a way to expose kids to foods they may not have tried before.”

Parents and caregivers are also surveyed after their children participate in tasting exercises. Of those who completed surveys, 79 percent said their child talked about what they had learned in school about healthy eating; 69 percent reported that their child asked for specific recipes; and 72 percent reported making at least one Food Hero recipe, the research showed.

As Food Hero’s tips, tools and recipes get shared in person, online, through the media and via social media, the program’s reach also expands beyond the initial audience, the researchers said. Recipes from the program are now being used around the world, and in 2015, the recipes on the Food Hero website received more than 290,000 page views.

Anyone interested can also subscribe to Food Hero Monthly, an electronic magazine that includes recipes and tips. To sign up, visit https://foodhero.org/monthly-magazine.

In addition to their collaborations with Oregon partners such as the Department of Human Services, Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority, Food Hero program leaders are sharing materials and ideas with public health and SNAP-Ed programs in other states.

“Since 95 percent of the Food Hero recipes contain fruits and/or vegetables, people who try the recipes are helping us meet the primary goal of the campaign, which is to encourage more fruit and vegetable consumption, especially among low-income families,” Tobey said.

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Melinda Manore, 541-737-8701, Melinda.manore@oregonstate.edu; Lauren Tobey, 541-737-1017, lauren.tobey@oregonstate.edu

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Cowboy salad

Cowboy Salad

Magical fruit salad

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Preschoolers’ motor skill development connected to school readiness

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Preschoolers’ fine and gross motor skill development is indicative of later performance on two key measures of kindergarten readiness, according to a study published today by researchers from Oregon State University.

Preschoolers who performed better on fine and gross motor skill assessments early in the school year were more likely to have better social behavior and “executive function,” or ability to pay attention, follow directions and stay on task later in the school year, scientists said.

“Physical activity and motor skills are important for preparing for school and for life,” said Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and lead author of the study.

“Now that we know these things are linked to school readiness, we have more tools to share with parents and educators so they can help young children be ready for school.”

The findings were published in Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, and supported by the Environmental Health Sciences Center and the Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families at OSU and OSU-Cascades. The work included an interdisciplinary team of researchers.

Past research has proven that good social behavior, including cooperation, is key to a healthy transition to school. Other research has shown that children with strong executive function skills are more likely to be successful in kindergarten and beyond. Executive function, also known as self-regulation, includes ability to pay attention, follow directions and persist through difficulty.

For the study, researchers used a range of assessments to measure the fine and gross motor skills, as well as the executive function and social behavior, of 92 children, ages 3-5. The assessments were conducted in fall and again in spring.

Results showed that fall measures of visual motor integration skills – a type of fine motor skills – predicted children’s scores on executive function tasks in the spring. Children’s object manipulation skills, a type of gross motor skill, predicted their scores on spring social behavior assessments.

The researchers found that children with strong fine motor skills also showed better executive function skills, and stronger gross motor skills predicted better social behavior.

 “The findings speak to the potential role, early on, of fine and gross motor skill development,” MacDonald said. “In kindergarten, children are playing games, socializing, lining up on the playground and more, which children learn through exposure and experience. For a variety of reasons, some children come into school not prepared for those things.”

Additional research is needed to better understand how or why motor skills are linked to these key school readiness skills, but the findings underscore the importance of exposing young children to play and physical activity, which are essential to developing their fine and gross motor skills, MacDonald said.

“If we know this, then that gives us some things we can advise parents to focus on if they want to help prepare their child for school,” she said.

Fine motor skill development could include stacking blocks or other items, copying circles on a page or playing with creative toys such as Legos or crayons. Gross motor skill development could include things like playing catch, playing on toys at the park or drawing a line on the sidewalk and having the child jump back and forth over it.

“Kids need to move. It’s part of who they are at that age,” MacDonald said. “It’s important to remember to give them time to do it.”

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Megan MacDonald, 541-737-3273, Megan.MacDonald@oregonstate.edu

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Researcher Megan MacDonald plays with a child

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Entrants sought for healthy tailgate recipe contest; 5k fun run at OSU

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Recipes are now being sought for the 2016 GridIron Chef healthy tailgate recipe contest sponsored by the Moore Family Center for Whole Grain Foods, Nutrition and Preventive Health and the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University.

Contestants are encouraged to enter a favorite original recipe for a healthy snack, appetizer or other tailgate food in the annual contest. Entrants do not need to submit a prepared dish, only the recipe. The contest is open to anyone interested in participating, including alumni, students, staff, faculty and community members. The deadline is Oct. 24.

The top five recipes will be chosen by food experts and showcased at the College Tailgate and 5K GridIron Challenge fun run held Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Women’s Building, 160 S.W. 26th St., Corvallis. For additional information and recipe contest submission guidelines, visit http://bit.ly/2dTkszg.

The finalists’ recipes also will have a nutrition analysis performed by the Moore Family Center and will be included on the Moore Family Center and College of Public Health and Human Sciences websites. Prizes will include Bob’s Red Mill prize packages, Beavers football tickets and gift cards.

The tailgate event will include food, drinks, adult beverages and samples of the finalists’ recipes. The winning recipe also will be available to taste outside Reser Stadium before that day’s football game.

Registration also is underway for the 5k GridIron Challenge fun run. The run, which starts at 9:45 a.m., includes football skills challenge stations. A 1k fun run for children will also be held at 9:30 a.m.

Entry is $35, or $30 for OSU faculty, staff, students and alumni, or $15 for children under 18, and includes admission to the GridIron Chef tailgate event, which begins at 10:15 a.m. For more information or to register, visit http://bit.ly/2dLmHEl. Proceeds from the run benefit OSU’s KidSpirit and Faculty Staff Fitness programs.

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Relationship factors affect young adult use of condoms

CORVALLIS, Ore. ­­­– The characteristics of a person’s relationship, including commitment and partner-specific risk factors, affect the choice of whether or not to use condoms, according to new research from Oregon State University.

Understanding the reasons that sexual partners use condoms - for pregnancy prevention, disease prevention, or both - is critical to increasing their use, especially among young adults who are considered most at risk, researchers say. 

A recent study, led by S. Marie Harvey, associate dean and professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, was published in The Journal of Sex Research. It found that the use of condoms by young adults is often dependent on their specific sexual partner and characteristics of the partnership.

Condoms are unique in their ability to both protect against unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, or STIs. Although their use is important for every demographic, it is especially important for young adults, who have the highest rates of unintended pregnancy and HIV infection of any age group. Other STIs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, also appear to be increasing for this age group. 

The study, supported by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, explored the reasons for using condoms, including partner-specific factors such as commitment to the relationship, the perceived risk of getting an STI from a partner, and comfort in discussing and using condoms. Researchers examined the influence of these relationship characteristics and others on condom use among about 450 young adults, aged 18-30, for one year.

Study participants were questioned about their sexual behaviors, relationship characteristics, and reasons for condom use. All were condom users and if they had more than one sexual partner, the same series of questions were repeated for each partnership. 

“The partner-specific questions provided unique and critical insight into the role relationships play in decisions about why condoms were used,” said co-author Lisa Oakley, a post-doctoral researcher at OSU.

Researchers found that a number of relationship characteristics specific to a partner influenced reasons for condom use, including perceived risk of contracting a STI and confidence in discussing and using condoms with each partner. Although it seems intuitive that reasons for condom use, risk assessment and decision-making would be specific to a particular sexual partner, this is the first study to actually examine and demonstrate that point. 

The study also found that 51 percent of the participants used condoms primarily to prevent pregnancy; only 17 percent primarily to prevent the spread of disease; and 33 percent for both birth control and disease prevention. This was of particular interest because condoms are the only widely available way to prevent the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases.

“Overall, people are much more aware of the risk of getting pregnant and often don’t perceive themselves as at risk of contracting a sexually-transmitted infection,” Harvey said. 

“The goal of public health professionals is to help people lead healthier lives. When it comes to understanding why people use condoms, there is a need to understand the complexity of the partnership and the role relationship factors may play in influencing behavior.”

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S. Marie Harvey, 541-737-3824, Marie.harvey@oregonstate.edu

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Condoms

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Nutrition education and simple cafeteria changes leads to healthier eating

CORVALLIS, Ore. –  A combination of nutrition education and simple and inexpensive changes in elementary school cafeterias can lead children to make healthier eating choices, new research from Oregon State University shows.

The findings indicate that an integrated approach to child nutrition in schools could help address a nationwide child obesity epidemic. It also supports the “smarter lunchroom” movement that is gaining steam in school cafeterias around the country, said Stephanie Grutzmacher, an assistant professor of nutrition in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU.

The goal of the smarter lunchroom concept is to encourage kids to make better food choices through subtle changes in the cafeteria.

“They are all low-cost behavioral nudges, such as placing healthy food items at the front of the cafeteria line, using verbal prompts to encourage children to try something new, or posting fun facts about the healthy food items,” said Grutzmacher, who led the study while on the faculty at the University of Maryland.

The researchers’ goal was to test the effectiveness of those kinds of changes as well as the effectiveness of a companion classroom-based nutrition education program. The program, called Project ReFresh, was tested in public and private Maryland schools.

The findings were published recently in the Journal of School Health. Co-authors of the study are Hee-Jung Song of the University of Maryland and Ashley L. Munger of California State University, Los Angeles. The project was supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the USDA’s Team Nutrition program and the Maryland State Department of Education.

One group of students received classroom nutrition education as well as the cafeteria intervention program; another group received only the cafeteria intervention; and the third group did not receive either component of the program.

For the cafeteria intervention, researchers developed a toolkit of tips and ideas for cafeteria workers as well as training food service supervisors and staff to implement suggested changes. The researchers focused on small changes that might encourage students to make healthier food choices and encouraged cafeteria workers to evaluate their environments and pick a few changes that made the most sense in their school.

For example, asking things such as “Which fruit would you like: apples or peaches?” instead of “Would you like a fruit?” might help encourage the children to make a healthier choice, Grutzmacher said.

“We developed about 100 ideas for elementary school cafeterias, knowing that not all of the ideas were going to work in all of the cafeterias,” Grutzmacher said. “Moving the salad bar is not practical at every school, because of locations of plug-ins or other set-up issues.”

The classroom education included visits by trained nutrition educators as well as teacher training and lessons for the classroom teacher to use. The lessons were designed to integrate other school lessons, including math skills, writing prompts and reading.

Students reported their healthy food intake, including fruit and vegetable consumption, on a daily and weekly basis; before they started the program; and again once it was complete.

While researchers noted some improvements in healthy eating among students who received the cafeteria intervention, they found a larger improvement among the children who received both the classroom education program and the cafeteria changes. Students in that group reported eating more fruits and vegetables and enjoying foods such as whole grain pasta, Grutzmacher said.

The findings support the researchers’ belief that programs that address both individual and environmental factors may be most effective in improving children’s diets, she said.

“Vegetable consumption typically declines over time in school cafeterias,” Grutzmacher said. “It is pretty rare to find kids who are still choosing vegetables by the fifth grade. With this program, we saw an increase in vegetable consumption among these kids.

“We need more research but we think that integrating these approaches is a good idea.”

The findings are particularly valuable for low-income schools where children rely on school breakfast and lunch each day. Those children often have less opportunity to try new foods or eat a diet with a wide variety of fruits or vegetables, Grutzmacher said, and the school cafeteria plays a special role in helping to expose them to new fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods.

“If I could get every school to make one change, I would encourage them to offer tasting opportunities, so kids have a chance to try some new healthy food items and new recipes,” Grutzmacher said. “And I would give the kids a chance to vote on them, so they have a say in what ends up on their menus.”

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Stephanie Grutzmacher, 541-737-1610, Stephanie.grutzmacher@oregonstate.edu

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Cafeteria display of healthy food choices

School lunch display

Nutrition education lesson

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Working longer may lead to a longer life, new OSU research shows

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Working past age 65 could lead to longer life, while retiring early may be a risk factor for dying earlier, a new study from Oregon State University indicates.

The researchers found that healthy adults who retired one year past age 65 had an 11 percent lower risk of death from all causes, even when taking into account demographic, lifestyle and health issues. Adults who described themselves as unhealthy were also likely to live longer if they kept working, the findings showed, which indicates that factors beyond health may affect post-retirement mortality.

“It may not apply to everybody, but we think work brings people a lot of economic and social benefits that could impact the length of their lives,” said Chenkai Wu, the lead author of the study. He conducted the research as part of his master’s thesis at OSU, where he is now a doctoral student in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

The findings were published recently in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Co-authors include Associate Professor Robert Stawski and Assistant Professor Michelle Odden of OSU and Gwenith Fisher of Colorado State University. The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging.

The research was the basis for Wu’s master’s thesis in human development and family science; he’s now pursuing a doctorate in epidemiology.

Wu took an interest in the effects of retirement on health in part because of China’s mandatory laws, which are often debated. Retirement age is also an issue for debate elsewhere around the world, including the United States, he said.

“Most research in this area has focused on the economic impacts of delaying retirement. I thought it might be good to look at the health impacts,” Wu said. “People in the U.S. have more flexibility about when they retire compared to other countries, so it made sense to look at data from the U.S.”

Wu examined data collected from 1992 through 2010 through the Healthy Retirement Study, a long-term study of U.S. adults led by the University of Michigan and funded by the National Institute on Aging. Of the more than 12,000 initial participants in the study, Wu narrowed his focus to 2,956 people who began the study in 1992 and had retired by the end of the study period in 2010. 

Poor health is one reason people retire early and also can lead to earlier death, so researchers wanted to find a way to mitigate a potential bias in that regard.

To do so, they divided the group into unhealthy retirees, or those who indicated that health was a factor in their decision to retire – and healthy retirees, who indicated health was not a factor. About two-thirds of the group fell into the healthy category, while a third were in the unhealthy category.

During the study period, about 12 percent of the healthy and 25.6 percent of the unhealthy retirees died. Healthy retirees who worked a year longer had an 11 percent lower risk of mortality, while unhealthy retirees who worked a year longer had a 9 percent lower mortality risk. Working a year longer had a positive impact on the study participants’ mortality rate regardless of their health status.

“The healthy group is generally more advantaged in terms of education, wealth, health behaviors and lifestyle, but taking all of those issues into account, the pattern still remained,” said Stawski, senior author of the paper. “The findings seem to indicate that people who remain active and engaged gain a benefit from that.”

Additional research is needed to better understand the links between work and health, the researchers said. As people get older their physical health and cognitive function are likely to decline, which could affect both their ability to work and their longevity.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Stawski said. “We see the relationship between work and longevity, but we don’t know everything about people’s lives, health and well-being after retirement that could be influencing their longevity.”

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Chenkai Wu, wuche@oregonstate.edu; Robert Stawski, robert.stawski@oregonstate.edu, 541-737-9052