Behavioral Health & Nutrition
What are your general research interests?
My general research interests have always been in the area of nutrition and aging with a focus on the role of food in successful aging and maintaining quality of life.
What are your current projects and how are they funded?
Currently, I am a co-investigator of the Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span (HANDLS) study, a longitudinal study of age-related health disparities in Baltimore. Specifically, I design the nutrition component of the study, direct the dietary data collection and analyses, and supervise the nutrition support staff. The funding for this study is provided by the intramural research program of the National Institute on Aging (NIA). The annual budget for the nutrition component alone is approximately $250,000.
Who are your collaborators on these projects?
My collaborators include the principal investigators of the HANDLS study, Dr. Michele Evans, and Dr. Alan Zonderman of the NIA. I also collaborate with researchers from the Food Surveys Research Group, ARS, USDA and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The HANDLS study also provides the opportunity for graduate students to acquire training as research assistants. Dietary data from the HANDLS study have been used for master’s theses.
What are the likely “next steps” in your work?
The HANDLS study began in 2004, and the baseline was completed in 2009. There are over 3,000 participants in the study. The next wave of the study started in 2009 with an anticipated completion date of 2012. The HANDLS study was designed as a 20-year study. With respect to the nutrition component, we are now analyzing the baseline data to determine the eating patterns of the participants and the overall quality of their diets. We will explore the relationships between eating patterns and risk for chronic diseases and cognitive function. Preliminary analyses of the data revealed that diet quality was significantly associated with reported symptoms of depression. We want to explore whether the racial differences in diet quality are indicative of cultural differences in food preferences, selection, preparation, and availability, or disparities in socioeconomic status.
How would you describe your work’s importance to an interested lay audience?
The HANDLS study is looking at health issues, problems, and concerns in communities all over Baltimore. The purpose of the study is to understand some of the diseases related to aging in African Americans and whites in Baltimore. One objective is to discover why some people are healthier as they get older. It will help us learn about changes in health over time. Ultimately, this will be a long-term observational study in which participants will have state-of-the-art medical evaluations every three years over the next two decades.
The study uses three mobile medical research vehicles. These vehicles serve as community-based platforms for clinical research. The vehicles bring the study to the participants in the community, making it possible for more people to participate than in traditional hospital-based studies.