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Faculty study connections between health and culinary culture

Advancement Apr 29, 2022
Two men and a woman make a presentation
Two men and a woman make a presentation

KOKOMO, Ind. — Healthy eating can help prevent illness and disease, but education is key to knowing how to accomplish that goal. 

This was the conclusion from three studies conducted among Hispanic and Latino community members by J.R. Pico, senior lecturer in Spanish; Kim Mossburg, lecturer in nutritional science; and Christopher Caruvana, assistant professor of mathematics.

The Indiana University Kokomo faculty members’ research was funded by a $4,500 project development grant through the campus’s Applied and Community Research Center (ACRC), which provides research expertise, data analysis and trend/pattern reports to local and regional organizations, nonprofit agencies and businesses in north central Indiana.

The trio’s first study focused on the relationship between supplements, herbs, spices and their beneficial health influences among the two communities. A plant-based diet featuring herbs and spices, their presentation explained, can have a positive impact on the production of cellular proteins that can aid in disease prevention.

The group’s second project focused on the relationship between a person’s food intake, environment, demographics, acculturation, and disease. Additional formative research was conducted through cooking sessions with Hispanic and Latino residents, where researchers gathered information on their eating and cooking habits, garnering interest in learning about how to incorporate vegetables into their meals and replacing fried dishes with healthier versions.

“We want to be able to create well-designed interventions which help improve nutrition consumption and knowledge about nutrition, so that we can decrease disease risk,” Mossburg said.

Pico said the studies are valuable for the Hispanic community.

“They offer science-based nutrition education to our residents, and we make it accessible to them so that they can adapt to their own family needs,” he said. “Our residents can greatly benefit from learning about good eating habits and preventing future health conditions commonly associated with the Hispanic population.”

While the studies focused on the Hispanic and Latino communities, Mossburg said that some similarities from their results can be found in other cultural groups.

“If we look at disease correlations with different food groups consumed, it’s not always the same thing in every population, but there are some takeaways there,” she added.

Angela Coppola, ACRC director and assistant professor of health sciences, said that the study received funding because of the connection it formed between the campus and community. It was also selected for the communally beneficial goals of the studies, as well as the cooperative and involved nature with the local Hispanic and Latino communities.

“They are doing this with the group, not for the group,” she said. “This is important when working with communities that are traditionally underrepresented in decision-making that impacts them.

“This project is an example of how academics and community partners work together and learn from one another for a greater reason that will directly benefit the health and well-being of Hispanic communities in Indiana,” she said.

Future research will include a formalized study featuring a randomized control trial for three groups of Hispanic and Latino residents, measuring the effects of different herb and spice amounts in meals. Mossburg, Pico and Caruvana will also apply for additional grants to continue their research.

Over the past five years, the ACRC has funded nine project development and support grants, and four faculty course releases/stipends, Coppola said. The center has also held more than 10 professional development workshops and funding presentations for campus and community partners.

“By connecting faculty to community members and organizations, and vice versa, the ACRC hopes to support research as well as teaching and service goals that have a research component at IUK,” she said.  

For more information about the ACRC, go to iuk.edu/applied-community-research-center/


Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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