Media Contacts: Dr. Suzie Goodell, N.C. State University assistant professor of nutrition science, 919-513-2632 or firstname.lastname@example.org; and Dr. Virginia Carraway-Stage, East Carolina University assistant professor of nutrition science, 252-737-2473 or email@example.com
Getting children to eat fruits and vegetables – especially the green ones – is no small feat. Researchers at North Carolina State University are trying to change that.
Drs. Suzie Goodell and Virginia Carraway-Stage developed an innovative pictorial method to assess preschoolers’ liking of familiar fruits and vegetables, expanding on earlier work from others in the field. Their goal, according to Goodell, assistant professor of nutrition science at N.C. State, was to develop a better tool that researchers could use with nutrition education programs designed to improve fruit and vegetable intake in children.
The project, Carraway-Stage’s doctoral dissertation as Goodell’s former student, was featured in the journal Appetite in April 2014. In the months following publication, it has garnered national and international attention.
“We’ve heard from researchers all over the U.S. and world wanting to know more about our tools and our work,” said Carraway-Stage, now an assistant professor of nutrition science at East Carolina University. “We want this to be a resource that people can use in their own work, and we’re happy to partner with them to further the larger goal of helping children increase fruit and vegetable consumption as part of a healthy diet.”
Goodell added, “The beauty of this tool is that anyone in the world could use it, no matter what language they speak, because the assessment method is based entirely on photographs.”
So how does it work?
During the testing period, trained research assistants sat down with preschoolers ages 3 to 5 at several different Wake County Head Start centers. Using an iPad, the research assistant would show 20 different fruit and vegetable images, one at a time, to the child. At the bottom of each image was a series of five choices, illustrated by a range of “super yummy to super yucky” faces. The child would be prompted to point to the face that best demonstrates his or her level of liking for the particular fruit or vegetable.
The data were collected and assessed by Goodell, Carraway-Stage and their team, and they determined that the method was effective through observation and statistical analysis. The resulting tool and associated materials are free and available for use by contacting Goodell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“At the beginning of this process three years ago, we started out with more than 200 photos,” said Carraway-Stage, who also served as photographer for the project. “We were able to refine them through testing to develop a collection of 20 images.”
Recalling an incident in which one child mistook spinach for “a scary monster,” Goodell said, “We needed to know that the pictures we were taking were being seen the way we wanted them to be seen.”
More than 50 N.C. State students were involved in the process, doing everything from data collection to photo assessment. Several students conducted related honors research and capstone projects, presenting at national conferences and meetings. This was a welcome byproduct of the project, Goodell said.
“For us, it’s about building collaborations and strengthening research evaluation processes,” Goodell said. “It’s also very much about building capacity within our students to make them stronger when they go out into the workforce. We want to give them opportunities for exposure.”
Goodell and Carraway-Stage continue to collaborate, most recently working together on a USDA grant proposal for nutrition education projects at North Carolina Head Start programs.
To read about their project in Appetite, visit: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666313004984