Interview With Nutrition Education RIS Chair Dr. Georgianna Tuuri
Our interviews in Medical Nutrition Highlights have provided us
with insight into a number of fascinating new advances in clinical
nutrition being investigated by ASN members. In October,
however, we have been fortunate enough to hear from a member whose
interests are in nutrition education and in community-based
research, Dr. Georgianna Tuuri.
Dr. Tuuri is an Associate Professor of Human Nutrition and Food at
Louisiana State University's School of Human Ecology. She is also
the chair of ASN's Nutrition Education Research Interest Section
(RIS). Additionally, she participates in the Louisiana
Council of Obesity Prevention and is a member of the Louisiana
Action for Healthy Kids State Task Force.
Dr. Tuuri is now working on some truly groundbreaking research that
has the potential to change the way schools view nutrition
education and obesity prevention for young students. She was kind
enough to speak with us about her recent investigation as well as
her experience with ASN and the Research Interest Sections.
Interviewer: How did you
first become interested in nutrition and in community-based
Dr. Tuuri: I started out in
nutrition as a registered dietitian with my Master's in Nutrition.
I decided that I wanted to focus on more than just food, which led
me to pursue my Doctorate in Education and Curriculum
Development. My interest in community-based interventions has
allowed me to take what I have learned in education and apply it to
nutrition. This combination has led to some very exciting research
that should be coming out soon. Our team believes we may have
discovered a missing link in nutrition education. Nutrition
research has done an excellent job helping schools create good
nutrition environments for children. It has also done a great
job encouraging children and coaching parents on healthy eating
habits. However, we have not taken the time to teach children
to like the flavors of healthy foods. And I don't believe we know
how. So I have been doing some research with tasting. We have
been trying to determine how many tastes it takes to help children
develop an affinity for these flavors.
Interviewer: Could you tell
us a bit about the specifics of what you found?
Dr. Tuuri: We developed
school-based programs that had children taste four fruits and four
vegetables that are liked but not universally so. We went into
school cafeterias over eight weeks. Each time the children
were asked to try a small taste of each of the fruits and each of
the vegetables. Children were asked to report if they tasted it and
what they thought about it. What we found with vegetables was, over
the course of the eight-week program, between 45 percent and 60
percent of the students changed from a "don't like" to a
"like." We returned two months later to conduct a "booster"
tasting and discovered that the "like" group was up to between 57
percent and 86 percent. Now we've just finished going back a
year later to conduct another set of booster tastes and the number
of "likes" rose to between 80 percent and 90 percent.
Interviewer: What age group
did the study investigate?
Dr. Tuuri: We worked with
1st graders, 3rd graders, and 5th graders as part of a National
Research Initiative Grant from the USDA National Institute for Food
and Agriculture. We found that they all increase, but it appears
the intervention may have the greatest efficacy in 1st
graders. We were surprised that we could even find an
improvement in 5th grader eating habits. We think that this program
may have shown these kinds of increases because it doesn't require
withholding from children. Schools often attempt to restrict access
to unhealthy foods without teaching student to enjoy healthy
foods. But research has shown that students will eventually
find a way to access the foods they like, particularly as they get
Interviewer: When should we
expect to see this study published?
Dr. Tuuri: We are working on
our manuscript at the moment. We just completed our one-year
follow-up last week so we hope to publish sometime next year. We
also hope to present several sessions at the Experimental Biology
Meeting in April.
Interviewer: How did ASN
first come to your attention and how have you found your membership
most helpful in your career?
Dr. Tuuri: I have been a
member of ASN since 2004. The organization is so
extraordinary at encouraging collaboration. It offers such great
opportunities for networking, particularly through Experimental
Biology and through the Research Interest Sections. I also
love the way the organization has really nurtured students and our
young researchers in the field.
Interviewer: Speaking of the
Research Interest Sections, would you tell us about your work as
the Chair of the Nutrition Education RIS?
Dr. Tuuri: There is a great
deal of credible and rigorous research being conducted by members
of our RIS. Going forward, we hope to convey to other members of
ASN the level of quality research now coming out of nutrition
education. As the representative group for nutrition
education within ASN, we intend to promote and support further
quality research in this scientific area.