Students to create college health program in UMaine-led project


Jade McNamara hopes to curtail behavior among young adults that can result in long-term health problems by recruiting their peers to create intervention programming tailored to their community.

The University of Maine assistant professor of human nutrition will lead a study with Makenzie Barr, an assistant professor of dietetics and human nutrition with the University of Kentucky, to teach students about community-based health improvement programs. The researchers will then task students with creating one for their campuses aimed at reducing behaviors among young adults that can lead to poor health-related quality of life and increased risk for chronic disease.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded them $177,676 for the project. The allocation is part of an overall $9.5 million investment toward research projects that enhance food and human health and improve diet and nutrition habits to help prevent chronic disease.

The course and subsequent implementation of a pilot program at both universities will focus on community-based participatory research. This approach involves university students assessing their campus environment, and working with health care professionals and academic administrators to create programs that will combat unhealthy behavior among young adults. Few efforts to create intervention programs on college campuses have used the community-based participatory research model, making the two professors’ project novel in the area of changing young adult health behaviors, according to researchers.

“Using a CBPR approach allows for the development of a health program that is both tailored and specific to the health needs and wants of Generation Z college students.” McNamara says.

McNamara and Barr will teach their course, “Community Based Participatory Research: An Experiential Learning Course to Improve Your Campus Environment,” open to all students and majors in the fall 2021 semester.

The class will explore motivational factors for behavior change, involve an evaluation of the environments of the UMaine and UK campuses and incorporate other aspects of community-based programming to curtail unhealthy behaviors, according to McNamara. UMaine and UK students will learn and work together via videoconferencing. They also will collaborate with health professionals and campus administrators to create outreach and activities that will help improve health-related quality of life and prevent chronic disease among young adults.

McNamara says three students from each university will then form a steering committee with health professionals and administrators and participate in a three-day workshop to refine the health program or programs designed in class.

After the course in Fall 2021, students and their partners will deploy their pilot programming at the 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 evaluate the effectiveness of their initiative.

Data from this program will enable the research team and collaborators to develop a continuation grant to test the health-related program at additional land-grant universities and community colleges, which has the potential to improve and sustain health of millions of young adults and help to ensure an able and active workforce as well as economic stability, according to McNamara and Barr.

Young adults experience mental health illness more than older age groups, McNamara says. Poor mental health, in particular, can result in poor health-related quality of life and a reduction of physical ability that can increase the risk for chronic disease.

McNamara says stress and anxiety, a lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating contribute to poor health-related quality of life among young adults. If health-related quality of life and unhealthy behavior are left unchecked, she says they may struggle with future health issues after graduation.

“This project is working towards implementing programming 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,” McNamara says.


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