Fey-Yensan, Nancy [faculty advisor, Department of Human Science & Services]
Whole grains; college students; intake; nutrition
Increasing the consumption of whole grain foods is an immediate public health priority. Whole grains are rich in dietary fiber, antioxidants, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Americans of all ages do not eat enough of these foods to benefit from their potential to reduce the risk of certain cancers, diabetes and obesity. The aim of this project is to profile the whole grain intake and document related knowledge and attitudes of a convenience sample of college students at the University of Rhode Island, a group that is at high risk for a low whole grain intake. Using the introductory nutrition (NFS 207) lectures as the source of subjects, the student researcher worked with two course professors on the Kingston and Providence campuses to recruit both traditional (age 18-24) and non-traditional (25 years and older) students to participate in the study. Students were introduced to the study in class and were asked to complete a survey about whole grain knowledge and perceptions, and to document whole grain food intake using a newly developed screener for whole grain foods (baseline data). The student researcher also developed a series of three whole grain topical newsletters designed specifically for these students as a mini-intervention. Students received each of the three newsletters in class at three different times during the fall semester 2007. Topics included: Whole Grain Basics (identification of whole grains, benefits, recommended intakes); Well Known Whole Grains (variety of whole grain breads, pastas, rice, and cereal available in the supermarket and dining halls); and last, Lesser Known Whole Grains (awareness of the spectrum of options related to whole grain food choices). 186 students were assessed at baseline (beginning of the semester) and post-intervention (end of the semester, n=145) on all variables. Post-intervention results show that the intervention had a positive impact on student knowledge, intake of whole grain foods, and ability to identify whole grains. For example, subjects significantly increased their ability to correctly define what a whole grain food is (1.1% at baseline; 34.5% post intervention). The work reported here is a follow-up to other studies conducted on whole grains at URI. In keeping with previous findings, subjects of all ages tend to overestimate their intake of whole grain foods, primarily because they do not have an accurate perception of what constitutes a whole grain food. Once they have a fuller understanding of what defines these foods as truly whole grain, it may appear that post-intervention, intake declines, when actually, reported intake becomes more accurate. This trend was also seen in this study, as students were better able to identify whole grains more frequently post-intervention than at baseline as a result of education. Overall, the results of this student-coordinated research were very positive, producing several benefits: 1) increased student nutrition knowledge specific to whole grains, 2) enhanced existing NFS 207 curriculum, 3) tested the validity of a number of developing survey instruments related to whole grains, and 4) produced three college-student appropriate newsletters to inform students of the importance of whole grains in maintaining health. Future studies should attempt to capture whole grain food intake using multiple 24 hour recalls rather than the global screening instrument used with these students to profile whole grain food intake pre and post.