CARE Connect: Community Research at Stowe Mission Pantry

What?

This past summer I worked at a south side Columbus food pantry with Dr. Colleen Spees from the Medical Dietetics department of the School of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences on her grant, CARE Connect. Our mission was to study health disparities among a food insecure population. Food insecure households often rely on food pantries for emergency food assistance, yet this supplemental food assistance often fails to meet the dietary needs of food insecure households. The chronic lack of access to healthy foods leads to health disparities that make food insecure families more vulnerable to chronic disease, including type 2 diabetes. The focus of my research will look at the characteristics of the food insecure diabetic population.

This project aimed to assess health status, provide education, and refer participants to health care services for further health assessment.  Health professionals from areas such as physical therapy, respiratory therapy, mental health, and dietetics participated in performing health screenings on pantry participants. I spent 3-4 days each week at the food pantry collecting data related to cardiovascular health. Basic anthropometric measurements such as height, weight, and waist circumference were collected. By collecting a small sample of blood, I was able to obtain cholesterol, glucose, and Hemoglobin A1c values. Blood pressure was measured using an automatic cuff. Using the data obtained, we were able to assess cardiovascular health and triage participants for referrals to community healthcare providers.

My STEP funds allowed me to focus on my research instead of holding a summer job and paid for my commute to Stowe Mission every week.

So What?

As a senior in high school, I did community-based diabetes research with a professor in Human Nutrition. Having this experience provided me with basic knowledge about the research process but also peaked my interest in diabetes. In 2012, reportedly 29.1 million people in the United States had type 2 diabetes and 8.1 million of those were undiagnosed. I think it’s important to understand the pathophysiology and treatment of this disease, but I believe prevention is an area that can be studied further. Studying food security and its role in the development and progression of diabetes is an important area.

Going into this summer, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had no idea what it would be like to collect data in a food pantry. Before being allowed on-site, all students completed two days of training. This was a time to explain what a community setting is like, what types of people we might meet, and to voice any concerns we might have. Any concern I might have had before going into the pantry quickly dissipated when we began our research.

Participants often had to wait to be seen and were juggled between assessment stations. This would probably be a frustrating experience for me if I were a participant, but many people were just grateful they had the opportunity to come and get their cholesterol or blood sugar checked. Although we were in the community to collect data, I felt that by the end of the summer we had developed a connection with the community on a personal level. Participants were given comment cards at the completion of the study to provide feedback. One participant wrote on the comment card, “I felt like I was listened to and that they cared about me.”

Moving forward, I have a greater appreciation for the life that I lead and the many opportunities and resources available to me that many of the people we saw do not.

Now What?

Moving forward, the data collected over the summer will be analyzed and will be incorporated into the poster I plan to present at the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum. After presenting my poster, I plan to publish a manuscript of my findings in a national research publication. Being able to start from the very beginning with data collection and follow it through to presentation has instilled in me a greater appreciation for the research process.

Working with a population who has very little but appreciates so much is a humbling experience. As a society, I believe we take a lot for granted. It is only when you have very little that you realize you don’t need much to be happy. As I continue my education, I hope to attend graduate school, whether it is for a degree in Public Health, Health Policy, or Food Science. Any one of these degrees helps me reach a large group of people and affect health and nutrition status. It is my hope that when I become a registered dietitian I can spend time working in a community setting improving the health outcomes of a historically underserved population. Without STEP, I would not have been able to grow and challenge myself both academically and personally.

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Hannah Hart Medical Dietetics