Students to create college health program in UMaine-led project
Jade McNamara hopes to reduce the behavior of young adults that can lead to long-term health problems by recruiting their peers to create intervention programs tailored to their community.
The University of Maine’s assistant professor of human nutrition will lead a study with Makenzie Barr, assistant professor of dietetics and human nutrition at the University of Kentucky, to teach students about community-based health improvement programs. The researchers will then ask students to create one for their campus aimed at reducing behaviors in young adults that can lead to poor health-related quality of life and increased risk of chronic disease.
The US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded them $ 177,676 for the project. The allocation is part of a global investment of $ 9.5 million in research projects that improve human diets and health and improve eating and nutritional habits to help prevent chronic disease.
The course and subsequent implementation of a pilot program at the two universities will focus on community-based participatory research. This approach involves college students assessing their campus environment and working with medical professionals and college administrators to create programs that will tackle unhealthy behaviors in young adults. Few efforts to create intervention programs on college campuses have used the community-based participatory research model, making the two professors’ project groundbreaking in the area of young adult health behavior change, the researchers said.
“Using a CBPR approach enables the development of a health program that is both tailored and specific to the health needs and wants of Generation Z students.” McNamara said.
McNamara and Barr will be teaching their course, “Community Participatory Research: An Experiential Learning Course to Improve Your Campus Environment,” open to all students and majors in the fall semester 2021.
The class will explore motivators for behavior change, involve an assessment of UMaine and UK campus environments, and incorporate other aspects of community programming to reduce unhealthy behavior, according to McNamara. Students from UMaine and UK will learn and work together via video conference. They will also work with healthcare professionals and campus administrators to create awareness activities and activities that will help improve health-related quality of life and prevent chronic disease in young adults.
McNamara says that three students from each university will then form a steering committee with medical professionals and administrators and participate in a three-day workshop to refine the health program (s) designed in the classroom.
After the fall 2021 course, students and their partners will roll out their pilot programming on UMaine and UK campuses. They will recruit 50 students from each university to participate and collect data about them before and after the program to assess the effectiveness of their initiative.
The data from this program will allow the research team and collaborators to develop a continuation grant to test the health-related program at other universities and community colleges granting land, which has the potential to improve and to maintain the health of millions of young adults and ensure a skilled and active workforce and economic stability, according to McNamara and Barr.
Young adults suffer more from mental illnesses than older groups, says McNamara. Poor mental health, in particular, can lead to poor health-related quality of life and reduced physical abilities that can increase the risk of chronic disease.
McNamara says that stress and anxiety, lack of physical activity and poor diet contribute to a poor health-related quality of life in young adults. If health-related quality of life and unhealthy behaviors are left unchecked, she says they could have future health issues after graduation.
“This project aims to implement programs on university campuses that will lead to a better health-related quality of life for young adults by including them in the design, implementation and evaluation of the health program” , says McNamara.
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