New Moms Wellness Study is groundbreaking research that examines how a diet rich in fruits and vegetables reduces biomarkers of breast cancer risk. This study aims to find out the extent to which at least 8-10 daily servings of nutrient dense fruits and vegetables reduce biomarkers of breast cancer risk particularly in healthy lactating women. In other words, the difference between biomarkers in breast cancer risk in lactating women with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables vs. those biomarkers in lactating women who follow a more typical diet will be investigated.
As a nutrition research assistant, my role is to provide nutrition support to the participants in the study. I provide nutrition education and counseling for both control and intervention participants. Primarily, I help participants in the intervention group in attaining the study goal of consuming 8-10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Through different methods and procedures that include analyzing food records and providing weekly nutrition counseling sessions, I help keep participants on track in consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
This summer I received extensive training, conducted by Dr. Sibeko and the study dietitian, to prepare me for my research assistant (RA) role. In the study, breastfeeding mothers are randomized into an intervention group or control group. The intervention group is asked to consume a diet that consists of 8 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. This big increase in intake of fruits and vegetables in anyone’s diet would be challenging to achieve without support. Therefore, a significant part of my role was to provide nutrition counseling to intervention participants.
As a nutrition RA, I received the following training: familiarizing myself with the specific contents of the standardized fruit and vegetable boxes prepared at UMass dining services and delivered on a weekly basis curbside and contactless (due to COVID-19), to study participant’s homes. I was also trained on RedCap a research focused software used to capture data. I used RedCap to access participant’s food records which detail eating habits and allow RAs to monitor progress on produce intake, and serves to guide nutrition counseling sessions. Participants also periodically input their dietary intake directly into the Automated Self-Administered 24-hour (ASA24) data base. Nutrition RA teach study participants to use ASA24.
Nutrition counseling and data collection were the focus of my research duties and responsibilities as a nutrition RA. Nutrition counseling takes place through phone calls, while data collection (i.e. anthropometric measurements) via video/phone. As nutrition counselor I provide education and tools that assist participants attain the study’s dietary goal. The study dietitian monitors the outcome of the counseling sessions. My specialized role in the study was also to be available to provide nutrition counseling to Spanish-speaking study participants. The study is focused on recruiting an ethnically/racially diverse population of study participants.
While working with the New Moms Wellness study I have gained practical skills that I will one day use as a registered dietitian. Specifically, I was able to better understand the process of dietary behavior change. There are a series of counseling concept such as active listening, mirroring, collaboration, and making SMART goals that are essential to ensure change in any behavior. It was a great opportunity to get a glimpse into what my future as a professional dietitian might look like.
Also, through the study I was able to apply nutrition concepts that I have previously learned in class into practice. For instance, I was able to practice different types of nutrition assessments such as anthropometrics and dietary intake. Now I not only know the definition of nutrition assessment, but I also know how to conduct an assessment and understand its importance when addressing dietary behavior change. In other words, the study gave me the chance to experience how to use nutrition in real life scenarios.
Finally, New Moms Wellness study helped me realize that I am interested in research, and further involvement in research may be part of my future plans. I find it amazing how this study, and others as well, come up with a question and work towards finding the answer. In fact, what really is shocking is seeing how the results from this study, no matter what the outcome, will clarify concepts and inspire ideas in other researchers. Also, studies like the New Moms Wellness study are contributing important results to the world of cancer prevention. As a future health professional, I have seen the value of research close up and that has opened up new career possibilities for me. For all these experiences I am very grateful to the CAFE Summer Scholars program for giving me this opportunity.