behavioral health & nutrition research

Faculty from the Behavioral Health and Nutrition Department in the College of Health Sciences engage in novel, inter-disciplinary research that contributes to the scientific literature, while also providing a rigorous training ground for graduate and undergraduate students. 

We conduct high-impact initiatives that have a positive and lasting effect on human health and well being. Our faculty are contributing to the development of new knowledge about a wide array of diseases and injuries, as well as issues related to wellness and health promotion, including nutrition, health education, and exercise.

The following are some examples of ongoing research in our department:

  • Assessing physical activity in parks and along streetscapes using high-tech video capture and computer vision analysis.
  • Barriers to physical activity participation in aging populations
  • Dietary and anthropometric assessment methods
  • Developing local epidemiological population balance model informed by unmanned aerial vehicle and wearable video glasses data
  • Efficacy of social media in promoting healthy behaviors
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  • Effectiveness of health coaching on high-risk mothers and their children
  • Examining the impact of clinical health coaching on physical activity and weight loss in obese patients. 
  • Motor coordination in children with autism, dyslexia, and developmental coordination disorder
  • Motor skill proficiency, physical activity, and obesity in young children
  • Promoting walk-to-school behaviors and policies: assessment of community environments
  • Nutritional interventions in cardiovascular disease and aging
  • Psychosocial determinants of physical activity behavior
  • Promoting small business support of youth physical activity in low-income, minority neighborhoods
  • Use of animal therapy to promote health among children with disabilities

 

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Our Research Labs

Key Investigators: Dr. Carrie Earthman

The BCM Lab utilizes measures of muscle mass, muscle quality, and protein and energy metabolism to improve our understanding of the interactions between disease, illness and aging and nutritional status. The primary goal for the BCM Lab is to more effectively identify and monitor poor muscle health as a key feature of clinical malnutrition in hospital and outpatient settings and develop optimal interprofessional management strategies to improve nutrition status and health outcomes in individuals with chronic diseases such as heart failure and cancer, and in those undergoing hospitalization for acute illness or injury.

Visit the Body Composition & Metabolism Lab website to learn more.

Key Investigator: Dr. Richard Fang
Research conducted by Dr. Fang is focused on the development and validation of dietary assessment tools delivered over the web interface and the development and evaluation of personalized, web-based nutrition education modules to help specific populations (i.e., college students, Asian Americans) improve their intake for certain nutrients such as dietary fiber, calcium, or vitamin C.

To learn more, contact rfang@udel.edu

Key Investigators: Drs. Carrie Earthman, Shannon Robson and Jillian Trabulsi
Research in the Energy Balance and Nutrition Laboratory (EBNL) focuses on the energy mechanisms and weight-control behaviors that contribute to desirable or less desirable weight gain, growth, and nutritional status in infants, children, adolescents, and young adults who are healthy, and in those with chronic disease.

Since weight status in young childhood affects development and is predictive of adult weight status, the goal of our laboratory is help all individuals reach and maintain a healthy weight. Visit the EBNL website to learn more.

Key Investigator: Professor Jennifer Thorpe
The lab features a demonstration counter with gas stovetop and demo mirror as well as six independent cooking stations. Each cooking station includes: gas stovetop and range, sink, and cupboards filled with kitchen supplies and gadgets. Basically, six mini-kitchens! The working capacity of the lab is a maximum of 20 participants or students.

 

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Key Investigator: Dr. Alisha Rovner
Research conducted by Dr. Rovner focuses on growth, bone health and body composition in healthy children and children with chronic diseases.  

To learn more, contact: arovner@udel.edu

Key Investigator: Dr. Iva Obrusnikova

The Health and Disability Laboratory promotes high-quality interdisciplinary research to improve health, physical activity, equity, quality of life, and independence among persons with disabilities. Specifically, it focuses on the development and evaluation of comprehensive behavioral interventions and service efforts; creating and evaluating new or existing community-based fitness/wellness programs; and developing and testing the effectiveness of new supportive and assistive technologies. In addition to clinical experiences in external community-based settings, in-house laboratory skills demonstrations, simulations, or in-vivo interventions provide an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to improve their competences necessary to provide high-quality services to persons with disabilities.

Key Investigator: Dr. Sheau Ching Chai
Nutrition and Health Research Laboratory focuses on investigating the role of functional foods (foods and food components that provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition) and dietary antioxidants in prevention and reduction of age- and nutrition-related chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and cognitive decline.

Other areas of research include investigation of the link between inflammation, oxidative stress, and chronic conditions in humans. Visit the Nutrition and Health Research Lab website to learn more.

Key Investigator: Dr. Jae Kyeom Kim and Dr. Jillian Trabulsi
Dr. Kim has been focusing on preventive mechanisms of non-essential nutrients/constituents from fruits and vegetables against chronic diseases such as cancers and obesity.

Specifically, Dr. Kim has three major research foci: 1) molecular mechanisms of vegetables and their bioactives in cancer prevention (colon and lung cancers), 2) investigation of the role of small RNAs (e.g., microRNA or mitoRNAs) in disease development and crosstalk between these small RNAs and signaling pathways, and 3) establishment and utilization of genetically engineered mice model for chronic disease studies (e.g., isocitrate dehydrogenase 2 knock-out mice model for obesity and cancers).  

To learn more, contact: jkkim@udel.edu

Key Investigator: Dr. Carly Pacanowski
Dr. Pacanowski’s research aims to understand how disordered eating cognitions and behaviors relate to weight gain over time and behavioral, physiological, and psychological well-being. She co-leads the Disordered Eating Delaware (DEDE) research group with Dr. Christine Skubisz, which focuses on the primary and secondary prevention of eating disorders at UD. Dr. Pacanowski’s research group has conducted several randomized controlled trials investigating weight-control behaviors ranging from quantifiable (e.g. tracking minutes of exercise or steps per day, monitoring weight, calorie counting) to intuitive (e.g. achieving mindful movement through a practice such as yoga, intuitive eating).

To learn more, contact: cpacanow@udel.edu 

Key Investigator: Dr. Michael Peterson

Our purpose is to explore and practice the art and science of utilizing marketing and communication techniques via traditional and emerging technologies to promote positive health changes and improved quality of life among our target audiences.

The Social Marketing & Health Communication Lab (SMHC Lab) provides opportunity for students to gain practical, hands-on experiences in social marketing techniques, social media strategies, persuasive writing and blogging, health communication skills, interviewing and focus group skills, and podcast development. Learn More

Key Investigators: Freda Paterson

Our research program is interested in understanding how the amounttimingregularity, and patterns of daily behaviors (namely sleep, physical activity, sedentariness, and eating) may play a role in chronic disease development, particularly in individuals at high risk for cardiovascular, metabolic, and pulmonary diseases. Our overarching goal is to develop viable and effective sleep- and circadian-based behavioral interventions to improve health and physical functioning in high-risk and underrepresented groups.  Visit their website to learn more.