American Society For Nutrition

Interview with Dr. Georgianna Tuuri, RD, Nutrition Education RIS Chair

Interview with Dr. Georgianna Tuuri, RD, Nutrition Education RIS Chair

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
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 research?
 
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 older.
 
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.