RIT nutrition professor aims to reach 10,000 New Yorkers with ‘About Eating’ program

Mother Cabrini Health Foundation funds outreach across New York state

A. Sue Weisler

RIT Professor Barbara Lohse provides free resources on healthy nutrition and well-being through the Nutrition Education and Engineering Designs (NEEDS) Center in the Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition.

A Rochester Institute of Technology nutrition researcher hopes to reach 10,000 New Yorkers with free resources promoting healthy nutrition and lifestyle tools that have been tested and shown to be effective.

Barbara Lohse, head of RIT’s Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition, designed the “About Eating” program for people with limited resources and made it available on the Nutrition Education Engineering and Designs (NEEDS) Center website. Now, through a $194,000 grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, Lohse is able to disseminate her nutrition education and healthy lifestyle tools across the state and target underserved communities, including Spanish-speaking New Yorkers. Mother Cabrini is one of the largest foundations in New York that provides funding for health care and training and resources for people living on a low income.

Lohse will use the funding to make “About Eating” available to New York states’ 10 fiscal regions and the people they serve.

 “We are going to do a marketing stratification in whatever way works for each fiscal region—social media, email, newsletter, listening sessions, or brochures,” Lohse said. “Our hope is that we will get a 1,000 people in each fiscal region to at least click on the link to start the website. Our goal is to reach 10,000 people.”

“About Eating” covers topics including cooking, weight acceptance, hunger and satiety, exercise, and healthy lifestyle with lessons that can be completed in any order and multiple times. Participants can choose when to take questionnaires embedded within each module to measure learning success.

“One person’s experience with the program can be very different than another person’s based on their interests,” Lohse said.

The healthy lifestyle information will be translated into Spanish by the Ibero American Action League.

“We will do qualitative interviews with Spanish-speaking New Yorkers to see what they think about the program and the translation,” Lohse said.

“About Eating” is available to anyone on the NEEDS Center website, a free community resource offered by RIT’s Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition, and was developed and tested with U.S. Department of Agriculture funding.

The digital program grew from a multi-state study that focused on promoting healthy eating to college students. Lohse, a researcher on the grant, revised the website content for the underserved population she worked with in Pennsylvania through SNAP-Ed, the educational arm of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called Food Stamps, and added a module on exercise. 

A randomized controlled study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior in 2015 found that participants improved in their ability to make food budgets, use nutrition labels, and plan healthy meals. Building on the program, Lohse added a sixth section on body weight and size called “About My Size.”

Now, “About Eating” is included in introductory nutrition classes in RIT’s Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition. Lohse teaches a graduate class called “Dissemination and Implementation Science in Health and Well-being,” Dissemination science, she said, refers to “the timely connection of programs that are backed by science with organizations and people that need them.”

Her work in disseminating “About Eating” to New Yorkers will enrich her class discussions. “It’s real-life material that I’ll be able to bring back to the classroom,” Lohse said. “The Mother Cabrini Health Foundation is not only helping New Yorkers, it’s helping in the way RIT can educate students, who may ultimately end up helping New Yorkers when they enter the workforce.”

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