We are excited to welcome back Logan Brunson to our FSHN Research Journeys series, which follows the research of graduate students in the Food Science and Human Nutrition program at The University of Florida! During the first year of his nutritional sciences master’s degree program, Logan described how the Homestyles-2 nutrition education program may help underserved communities adopt healthful lifestyle practices.
In this Research Journeys update, he discusses how his research project has changed, shares feedback from the study participants, and reveals his top three tips for new graduate students.
When we last heard from you, you were recruiting participants to study the effectiveness of the Homestyles-2 nutrition education program. What did you discover over the past year?
At the time of my first installment on FSHN Research Journeys, we were just beginning the recruitment process for the HomeStyles-2 study. We have been very busy with the project since then. As a reminder, the HomeStyles-2 study is a two-arm, cluster-randomized controlled trial delivered through SNAP-Ed for parents/caregivers of children aged 6 to 11 years. The HomeStyles-2 program is a six-lesson virtual nutrition education intervention taught by Family Nutrition Program (FNP) nutrition educators.
Over the past year, we put together 18 clusters from a total of 25 Florida counties. Within these clusters, 44 FNP nutrition educators were randomized, resulting in the designation of 23 nutrition educators to the HomeStyles-2 intervention and 21 to the active control. From January-September of 2022, nutrition educators conducted 20 series amounting to 120 classes.
We recruited a potential 391 participants from partner sites. Of those 391 participants, 226 met the study eligibility requirements. By October 2022, a total of 166 participants had successfully completed the required baseline survey and attended at least three classes. From conducting this study, I learned just how much effort is required to effectively implement a state-wide cluster-randomized controlled trial.
The HomeStyles-2 study has also shown me that consistent collaboration with your mentors and lab group is a necessity. The success of this project has definitely been a big group effort and would not be possible without the other amazing members of Dr. Shelnutt’s lab. Together, we have spent hours recruiting and enrolling participants, mailing curriculum guides, meeting with nutrition educators, conducting surveys, and entering data.
How has your research project changed from your first semester? Why did it change?
Since we last spoke, some unfortunate changes occurred with my research project because of several uncontrollable factors. COVID required the full adaptation of the HomeStyles-2 program to a virtual format. COVID also negatively impacted recruitment and retention, which resulted in an underpowered study. Also, our SNAP-Ed contract changed the project’s scope to no longer include adults, so recruitment was cut short during the intervention. Therefore, future research should include a larger sample.
These changes have taught me that researchers need to be flexible when working with community members and organizations, which could potentially impact research protocols and outcomes but preserves relationships for future partnerships. Nevertheless, the impact that the HomeStyles-2 program has had on the participants is undeniable, and I am excited to see what the data show.
What are the next steps with your research?
The immediate next steps with the HomeStyles-2 project are to enter the remaining participant surveys into Qualtrics and run statistical analyses on the data. I also plan to publish the results of my research and defend my thesis this summer. Based on some of the participants’ success stories, I am certain analyses will yield promising results.
We have received some great participant feedback indicating the HomeStyles-2 program did, in fact, help parents experiencing food insecurity make low-cost changes to their lifestyles to reduce the risk of childhood obesity within their homes. Additionally, it has been a pleasure working alongside all the FNP nutrition educators. Their innovative ideas to adapt the project and dedication to adult learning in underserved communities were fundamental to the success of the study. My final objective with the HomeStyles-2 study will be to present my results at the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior’s (SNEB) annual conference in Washington D.C.
Will you share some of the feedback you received?
“The classes are very helpful and I don’t want to miss any. Not to receive the study incentive but for my personal use. I’ve seen a lot of positive improvement so far and I wish to complete the classes.”
“This study has influenced me to have as many family meals with my child as possible and bring him healthy meals to school with lots of fruit and veggies!”
“Thank you I had a great time [in] class and I love the nutrition education reinforcement items. The salad tongs are perfect and I already tried the cranberry recipe on the calendar. We’re eating the three-bean white chili recipe tonight. Thank you so much we’re expanding the education and awareness for my family.”
“The kids were very excited with the nutrition charts and to help me open it. I have been incorporating what we are learning in class into our everyday routine. I have four kids and had a mini stroke at age 37 and now have high blood pressure. Since I started the classes I have returned back to the gym and have been running every day. Thank you guys so much for your help and [for] being interested in teaching us better life practices and healthier choices.”
How do you relax and recharge while working on your research project?
It may sound contradictory, but my favorite way to relax and recharge is by being active and spending time outdoors. Nature brings a sense of calmness and freedom which I find to be a great stress reliever. Some of my favorite activities include exploring the local springs, surfing, and playing softball with friends.
I was born and raised in McIntosh, Florida, but I spent every summer of my youth surfing at St. Augustine Beach. It was there that I discovered an early love for the ocean. Surfing is now a way for me to exercise my body, and more importantly my mind. I have also played baseball my entire life. Baseball has taught me the importance of working as a team, how to overcome loss, and time management. To continue playing the game I enjoy so much, I started a coed softball team in college which has stuck together through graduate school.
What are the top three things you wish you had known going into your graduate program?
- Learn how to fully dissect and analyze a research paper. Prior to starting my graduate program, I was inadequately equipped with the tools to do so. Fortunately by taking Dr. James Collins Minerals course in Spring 2023 and Dr. Mitchell Knutson’s Vitamins course in Fall 2022, I was taught how to critically evaluate a scientific paper, as well as search for the best articles within the literature. Both courses unquestionably strengthened my ability to examine a research paper, which became easier to read as the semesters went on.
Take advantage of the many study abroad programs the University of Florida International Center offers. Before becoming a Master’s student I had never traveled intercontinentally. During my first summer in the graduate program, I had the opportunity to travel to Ikaria, Greece alongside my major professor Dr. Karla Shelnutt. Additionally, I received the 2022 CALS Study Abroad Scholarship which was a tremendous help in enriching my study abroad experience. Ikaria is one of the world’s five Blue Zones, or areas of the world where people live the longest lives, consistently reaching age 100. During my trip, I was able to learn about the preserved culture and foods that are purported to contribute to the longevity of Ikarians. The trip to Ikaria was a much-needed intervention for me. It showed me that I may not be living the healthiest life and that there are alternative, less stressful ways to enjoy a full day. Specifically, the trip showed me how important time away from technology is and most of all, the significance of social interaction with friends and family.
- Learn the importance of waking up early and establishing a self-care routine. Graduate school is demanding and can be a challenge to your mental health. Getting into a quality long-term sleep-wake schedule is critical for healthy productivity. Waking up earlier in the morning allows you to enjoy a nutritious breakfast and frees up extra time later in the day for exercise. I found that starting the day early also improves your concentration, allowing you to accomplish your goals more easily throughout the day.
Is there anything else you would like to add about your experience in the FSHN graduate program?
Having been in the FSHN department since my first undergraduate nutrition course in 2016, I can say with certainty that the passion and kindness in this department are unparalleled. The students, faculty, and staff in the FSHN department are some of the most supportive and caring people you will find at UF, which is part of the reason why I decided to return to further my studies as a graduate student. The FSHN faculty is outstanding at creating a welcoming discussion-based environment for their students where you can engage and express yourself very comfortably.
I am also very lucky to have Dr. Shelnutt as my major professor. She has served as an incredible mentor during my time in the graduate program and continues to inspire me with her amazing work and accomplishments. I cannot thank her enough for her support in making my professional dreams come true and for the tremendous impact she has had on my life.
Looking for more posts exploring graduate research projects in the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department at the University of Florida?
Dive into the Research Journeys of other graduate students below.