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In the Department of Health & Behavior Studies

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The faculty of the Program in Nutrition are actively engaged in cutting-edge and transformative research, evaluation, policy, and other scholarly activities. They write articles for peer-reviewed journals, books, and reports. Students are an integral part of these activities.  Please see the biographical information on each faculty member for more detailed information.

Some current and recent projects are the following:

Choice, Control & Change (C3). Funded by the National Institutes of Health, this recently completed $1.5 million dollar randomized control study involved a middle-school nutrition and science curriculum that focused on eating and activity behaviors to reduce obesity risk. Ten schools (about 1100 students) were randomly assigned within pairs to intervention or control conditions. The curriculum used science inquiry-based investigations to enhance motivation for action, and social cognitive and self-determination theories to increase personal agency and autonomous motivation to take action, The study found that compared to those in the control schools, those completed the C3 curriculum decreased their consumption of sweetened beverages (soda, fruit drinks, sweetened iced tea etc.), foods from quick-serve restaurants, and processed, packaged snacks (chips, candy, cookies, cupcakes, etc). They improved in their knowledge and perception of agency or competence to navigate today’s challenging environment. Students were involved in the design, implementation and evaluation of this program (Drs Contento, Koch, Lee).

Creature 101 (C-101). Funded by National Institutes of Health and recently completed, Creature 101 is a serous game in nutrition, based on C3, to promote healthy eating and physical activity behaviors among young adolescents in middle school. Creature-101 uses behavioral theories as framework for “creature care” in a world called “Tween”. Students are provided with scientific evidence that promote energy balance through mini-games, educational videos and slideshows; and motivate them with interactive dialogues with game characters. Students also assess their own behaviors; create own “real life” food and activity goals, and report their progress. A pre-post intervention-control study with 590 students found that students in the intervention group who played the game reported significant decrease in frequency and amount of consumption of sweetened beverages and processed snacks when compared to the students in the control group. Students were involved in all phases of the intervention and led to a student dissertation. (Drs Koch, Lee, and Contento). 

Edible School Yard NYC is a nonprofit organization committed to building gardens and kitchen classrooms where children can engage in hands-on learning in NYC public schools.  Their goal is to provide students with the knowledge, skills and environment required to make healthier food choices. The Laurie M. Tish Center for Food, Education & Policy within the Program in Nutrition is partnering with Edible Schoolyard NYC to evaluate one of their Showcase Programs at P.S. 7 in East Harlem - a neighborhood K–8 school with some of NYC's highest levels of poverty and obesity and with limited access to fresh produce. The evaluation seeks to measure the impact that the program has on changing students’ eating behavior, including increased fruit and vegetable consumption and decreased processed food consumption. A unique part of the evaluation is the analysis of hundreds of photographs taken pre- and post school lunch-time meals to assess the foods that K-5th graders are choosing to eat during lunchtime and the amounts consumed.  The second aspect of the data collection is age-appropriate surveys that allow for analysis of students longitudinally. The surveys are administered with Audience Response System clickers, where students see the question projected on a screen and “click” in their answer. The project provides many opportunities for student volunteers to assist faculty members with the extensive data collection. (Drs Koch, Wolf, Contento). 

Effects of specific diet-derived phytonutrients upon oxidative and reductive metabolic pathways in cancer. Current and recently completed studies focus on developing chemopreventive strategies for diminishing risk of developing primary and secondary cancers. These studies seek to identify mechanisms whereby diet-derived organoselenium compounds such as in garlic might protect again prostate, colon cancers and a variety of other cancers. (Dr Pinto).

Food, Health & Choices. Funded by United Sates Department of Agriculture, Food, Health & Choices is a $1.5 million dollar randomized controlled study with fifth grade students to examine the impact of classroom education and wellness policy separately and together to achieve healthful choices and obesity risk reduction. It focuses on the energy-balance relate behaviors of increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and physical activity, and reducing intakes of sugar sweetened beverages, and processed package snacks and sedentary behavior. Twenty schools (about 1300 students) were randomized into 5 schools receiving curriculum only, 5 schools wellness policy and 10-minute dance breaks in the classroom only, both curriculum and wellness policy and 5 control schools. Measures include BMI, behaviors, psychosocial mediators, and process evaluation data as well as qualitative interview and focus group data. Doctoral and master’s degree students are central to the research, including teaching the educational curriculum and conducting wellness activities in the schools and participating in data collection and analysis; students can also use the data from the study for dissertations and master’s theses.  (Dr Contento, Koch, and Lee).

Fuel metabolism inter and intra muscularly. Recently completed studies have sought to understand the physiology of obesity and diabetes through an examination of insulin resistance and the lipids in muscles in men and women. (Dr Berk).

Healthy Colon Project II. Funded by the American Cancer Society the Healthy Colon Project II is a $2.1 million dollar randomized controlled trial that is  investigating the effectiveness of educational interventions directed at patients and primary care physicians for increasing rates of colorectal cancer (CRC) screening in an urban low-income minority population.  Nearly 600 NYC adults (and their primary care physicians) are participating in this project.  As part of the project, information related to participant's knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors related to colorectal cancer are obtained.  This is includes a host of questions related to dietary beliefs about cancer.  In a subset of ~200 participants, food frequency questionnaires were collected on fruit, vegetable, fat and fiber intake to better understand the relationship between dietary beliefs about colorectal cancer and actual intake. (Dr Wolf and Dr Basch in the Health Education Program).

Growing, Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life, and Vegetables. Dr Gussow has written books that are transformational for the field, such as This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, which chronicles what it is like to think globally and act locally, including growing your own food.  In her latest book on “Growing, Older,” she is again transformational in helping people recognize how they can at all ages learn self-reliance and work to change the world. 

My Smile Buddy. For the past several years, the Program in Nutrition at Teachers College has been collaborating with the Columbia's College of Dental Medicine to reduce early childhood caries, a highly prevalent and diet-dependent disease that causes tooth decay in young children and is the primary cause of childhood hospitalization for treatment under anesthesia.  Funded by an NIH challenge grant, a multidiciplinary team of researchers developed an innovative, technology-assisted early childhood caries risk assessment and behavioral intervention tool. MySmileBuddy uses a unique iPad application and offers a behaviorally focused, theory-based, and culturally tailored intervention that targets the primary drivers of early childhood caries: fluoride- and diet-related behaviors. This project is innovative in several respects: (1) incorporation of sophisticated Health Information Technology (Health IT) and Information Communication Technology (ICT), (2) focus on a high-risk population of low-income Hispanic children and (3) use of non-dental-professional Coaches to supplement dental services.  There are numerous opportunities for Program in Nutrition students (particularly those that are bilingual in Spanish) to get involved in MySmileBuddy and engage with parents and young children to improve oral health. (Drs Wolf, Koch, Contento).  

Membership on National Committees Translating Research Into Policy.

Faculty also serve on committees that at the national level develop policy based on evidence and research. Some examples are:

Dr Contento was a member of the expert panel, Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science, Food and Nutrition Board, Committee on Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools. It developed guidelines for foods in schools that are available apart from the school meals. The committee recommendations are being used to develop regulations for such foods in schools.

Dr Karen Dolins has been a Workgroup Member on the Evidence Analysis Library of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for revision of the Nutrition in Athletic Performance Position Stand.

Dr Joan Gussow has served on several National Academy of Sciences committees. Most recently she served a five-year term on the National Organic Standards Board where she worked to help shape the regulations that determines the quality of foods USDA certified as organic. 

Ms Shelly Mesznik has been a member of the Expert Panel on the Evidence Analysis Library at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to develop Nutrition Guidelines for the Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes.