Faculty members and students at the University of North Florida — in virtually all disciplines — are conducting research in hopes of discovering useful knowledge and answers. Here are a few questions that UNF researchers hope to answer in areas relating to food, diet and nutrition.
On behalf of all parents who have tried — often unsuccessfully — to introduce new foods to their picky eaters, Dr. Leslie Kaplan and Dr. Corinne Labyak are researching a food-tasting methodology that just might offer some hope in the age-old struggle between children and those good-for-you fruits and vegetables.
The goal for the three-year study is to slice away at food neophobia — the fear of trying new foods — and replace it with a culture of adventurous eating. Proving that not all research takes place in quiet laboratories, the UNF professors are conducting their work in the lunchroom of Holiday Hill Elementary School each week, bringing food tastings to nearly 700 children. Using a no-pressure tasting method within an environment of positive peer pressure, the researchers are hoping to please the palates of even the pickiest eaters.“We are trying to get rid of the power struggles,” Kaplan said. “We tell the children beforehand what the food may taste similar to and then encourage them to try a bite-size portion: sniff it, lick it, taste it or don’t — it’s your choice. As we continue the program, we hope that the culture of adventurous eating will become the norm, and kids will be more willing to try new foods.” The professors chose two classes per grade for the research — 10 weeks in the fall and again in the spring. A survey is used in week one and repeated in week 10 to measure attitude; tastings are used to measure behavior. While all students in the school will be offered the food tastings, only responses from the selected classes will be included in the study. The research team also is conducting a control group at Louis S. Sheffield Elementary.As a dietitian, Labyak believes that lessening neophobia may have important health implications. “With the prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in our country, it is so important to start at a young age to impact their future habits and health,” Labyak said. “The kids tend to enjoy the tastings; it’s almost like a science experiment.”About a dozen seniors from UNF’s Nutrition and Dietetics Flagship Program in the Brooks College of Health helped prepare and distribute the food during the fall research period, as well as record reactions for later data compilation. The tastings have ranged from heirloom tomatoes to kiwi to bok choy to star fruit, with plenty more to come.
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