Women, children benefit from RIT nutrition research

$200K grant helps improve WIC program

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A. Sue Weisler

The George Eastman Building (background), home of RIT\'s School of Hospitality and Service Management

Linda Underhill spent a chunk of 2006 traveling across the country with colleagues in an effort to help improve the nutrition of many women, infants and children.

This year, armed with a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service Agency, the RIT team expects to finish the job.

Underhill and two of her colleagues in the School of Hospitality and Service Management, Barbra Cerio-Iocco and Liz Kmiecinski, have worked to implement a competency-based training initiative for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Women, Infants and Children Program’s nutritional assessment process.

“The program had to make assumptions about the audience that it was dealing with,” says

Underhill, the principal investigator of the grant. “The assumption was that everyone who comes in

for assistance with food was malnourished. This resulted in a radical overhaul of the nutritional assessment process.”

After receiving a $300,000 grant from the agency in 2005, Underhill, Cerio-Iocco and Kmiecinski worked with regional WIC offices throughout the country to train their staff on three fundamental competencies, each designed to make the program more tailored to individuals.

“These are all very powerful tools,” Underhill says. “They make it less likely that a client is going to sit there and roll their eyes, and more likely that they’ll be willing to work collaboratively to make their family healthier.”

The key, Underhill says, is more flexibility.

“What will happen is that people will be treated as individuals, as opposed to the old non-individualized methodology,” Underhill says. “Not only will this new process better meet their needs, but it will be more effective because people will feel that it is a program that is tailored specifically for them.”

Now the group of nutrition professors will utilize the Department of Agriculture grant to produce self-instructional modules for the program’s staff to teach and assess competencies in the three areas introduced last year.

A training video is being produced in conjunction with RIT’s Educational Technology Center that will be distributed to the program’s offices across the country.

“The WIC program is something that the federal government really does very well,” Underhill says.

“This is a building block that will take the program to the next level.”