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Eat your vegetables -- program targets young adults

Young adults ages 18-24 are notorious for lack of healthy eating habits -- K-State is trying to change that

By Mark Berry

 

 

Guide yourself

Food guide pyramid. For the pyramid in another format, visit http://www.nal.usda.gov/accessibility/
Image courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

 

Posters, articles and commercials bombard us with information about healthy eating. But what if that information, like an Ozzy Osbourne concert advertisement on a classical music radio station, is targeted to the wrong audience?

Kansas State University is part of a project attempting to convince young adults to eat fruits and vegetables, using material targeted to their changing attitudes on the subject.

The project uses the "stage of change" model, which was developed by researchers who were trying to help smokers kick the habit. The "stage of change" concept targeted different kinds of education to different times in people's lives.

Some people had never thought about quitting smoking, so their education was devoted to simply grabbing their attention. Other people wanted to quit, but didn't know how, so educational material targeting them included advice on how to stop.

"The idea is that the stage of change you are in affects what kind of material you should be exposed to," said Barbara Lohse Knous, associate professor of human nutrition at K-State. "Nutrition educators have said, 'We've been preparing a lot of educational materials for people at the wrong stage. We've been trying to give all sorts of facts and recipes and tips to people who haven't even thought about fruits and vegetables.'"

Knous and other researchers from around the nation made newsletters for young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 -- a group notorious for its lack of healthy eating habits.

"Those are the people who have no mother there telling them to eat their fruits and vegetables, but many times they don't have their own children and families to encourage them to eat right," Knous said.

A control group will receive a general brochure. Others will receive newsletters targeted to their stage of change. They will be called periodically for more education and to update their stage. They will also be sent progress reports. The newsletter phase of the project will run for six months. After another six months with no education or newsletters, the subjects will be contacted again to see how they have fared.

"The hypothesis is if you get material that is targeted to your stage of change, you are more likely to progress than if you get material that is not hitting you at your stage," Knous said. "Nutrition education needs to be theory-based, not just spewing out facts and figures. If you have theory-based nutrition education, it tends to be more effective."

The Department of Agriculture is spending $2 million on the project, of which K-State gets $120,000. Nine other states are involved in the project: Oregon, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Alabama, Rhode Island, Maine and New York.

K-State is starting a pilot project this year with 40 young adults. K-State's main project will begin next year with 300 people. Other states will have similar projects.

"We have growing problems with obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. Those people all could benefit from a diet high in fruits and vegetables. If we have a young generation now that isn't eating fruits and vegetables, the problem is going to get worse," Knous said.

Adults are recommended to have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Three of the five servings should be vegetables. A study of 800 college students in Kansas and Iowa found that only 40 percent of them had the recommended three servings of vegetables.

"And if you took french fries out of there, the numbers go way down, to probably half that," Knous said.

Vitamin pills are not the answer either, Knous said. Plants have special nutrients that haven't been reproduced in pill form. Those nutrients help prevent things like cancer, high cholesterol and heart disease, or have antioxidant properties.

Summer 2002