NIFA-Funded Research on Dietary Practices

Americans' health depends on the quality and quantity of the country's food supply and the nutrients consumed by individuals. NIFA supports research that contributes to our understanding of appropriate dietary practices throughout the life cycle and factors affecting these requirements such as gender, race, and ethnicity. The agency also supports research on factors affecting consumers' attitudes and behavior toward food and develops recommendations to improve nutritional needs. Current research projects under way include:

Cognitive Interviewing

Cognitive interviewing is a technique used to provide insight into learners' perceptions in which individuals are invited to verbalize thoughts and feelings as they examine information. Use of cognitive interview techniques may improve the development of educational materials. Lack of published cognitive interview guidelines for nutrition education projects prompted researchers at the Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, to develop a manual, How to Conduct a Cognitive Interview – A Nutrition Education Example. The example presented in the manual is based on nutrition materials and processes using the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change to increase fruit and vegetable intakes of young adults aged 18 to 24 years. The work was supported by NIFA.

Improving the Nutritional Status of Older Women

Interest in maintaining the health and nutrition well-being of older adults (age 65 and older) is gaining importance. This population is expected to represent 22 percent of the total U.S. population by 2030, according to Census Bureau estimates. Two groups of researchers at the University of Connecticut are studying the effects of diet dietary sodium intake and dietary soy protein intake on bone health in women older than 60. Another group of researchers at Pennsylvania State University is looking at the effects of dietary iron deficiency on immune function in homebound women ages 60 years and older. Results of all these studies will be used in formulating dietary recommendations as well as recommendations for health screening for this vulnerable group.

Improving Dietary Standards

Standards for dietary nutrient intakes, such as the Reference Dietary Intakes issued by the Institute of Medicine, are widely used by nutrition and health professionals to assess dietary intakes of populations and make recommendations. NIFA-funded projects help support the continuing need to add to the research information base used to formulate such recommendations. Researchers at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, are working to determine the dietary copper requirement to support optimal human development. These studies will help to establish a biochemical marker of nutritional copper status. Another group of researchers at California State Polytechnic University is evaluating the effectiveness of natural dietary folate in improving folate status in non-pregnant women. The results of this study will be useful to those making recommendations for dietary folate intake for women of childbearing age.

Focus on Food Choices

Researchers at Colorado State University are developing a bilingual nutrition education program using computer technology to educate low-income, Hispanic, and migrant workers, regardless of literacy level. They will also measure outcomes to determine knowledge, attitude, and behavioral impacts and accommodate the needs of food and nutrition assistance programs. Another group of researchers at the Cancer Research Center, Hawaii, are analyzing data collected from a large multi-ethnic cohort of 215,000 people in Hawaii and Los Angeles to evaluate dietary quality among the ethnic groups and provide recommendations for ethnic-specific interventions to reduce the risk of chronic disease in these population groups.