The purpose of the New Mom’s Wellness study is to examine the extent to which a diet rich in fruits and vegetables reduces biomarkers of breast cancer risk and helps maintain a healthy weight in breastfeeding women. This study is the first to assess the direct effects of fruit and vegetable consumption on breast cells and in the breast microenvironment. Assessment will be achieved by measuring inflammatory cytokines in the breast milk of study participants.
In the study, participants are randomized to either the control group or the intervention group. Intervention participants are asked to eat 8 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
The role of a nutrition research assistant (RA) consists of various stages and responsibilities, these include:
• Each intervention study participant receives a weekly supply of fruits and vegetables. Entry-level nutrition RAs assist with packing of the produce boxes according to standardized guidelines that ensure a variety of specific fruits & vegetables. RAs select tested recipes to be included in the produce box. Due to COVID-19 produce box delivery to participants is curbside and contactless.
• RAs are also trained to enter data into 2 databases: Research Electronic Data Capture (REDCap) is a secure web-based application used for capturing data; the Automated Self-administered 24-hour Dietary Assessment Tool (ASA24hr), a web-based tool study participants use to log their dietary intake. Our role is to introduce/train participants on the use of ASA24hr and to assist with the management of coded dietary data.
Stage Two: This phase consists of the following duties and responsibilities (due to COVID-19, interaction with participants is remote through video or phone ‘visits’):
• Receive training on nutrition counseling methods (motivational interviewing, change talk vs. sustain talk (OARS), stages of change, and SMART goals). The nutrition counseling supports participants in the intervention group to reach their F/V-intake goal.
• Receive training on conducting anthropometric measurements (a remote process where participants are guided through self-measurement).
• Trained to carry out home visits (zoom or phone) consisting of nutrition education for control subjects, and nutrition education and nutrition counseling for intervention participants.
• Additional task: I was trained to assist in the training of newly hired nutrition RAs.
The most satisfying aspect of this study is witnessing participants’ improvement in fruit and vegetable intake as a result of my support (through nutrition counseling) and their efforts to make changes in their eating habits. Although study participants face various challenges, especially during this pandemic, they often express their joy in how motivated they are to continue to improve their intake of produce and how good they feel about their achievements. This motivates me to continue providing support.
Not only do participants gain new knowledge and insights from me, but I also learn from them, such as understanding the overwhelming role of being a mother. I enjoy talking to different participants since I can use one participant’s experience as an example to help another study participant struggling with a similar issue.
My career goal is to become a professional dietitian. I have gained valuable experience and skills as a research scholar and nutrition RA in the New Mom’s Wellness Study. Applying for a dietetic internship with a background in clinical trial research that includes advanced nutrition counseling skills places me at a great advantage as a candidate that has well-developed skills relevant to the profession. In addition, the research provided a variety of practical skills, especially counseling skills. I am passionate about helping people to enjoy a healthy, balanced diet without feeling restricted, so being able to develop my communication and application of my nutrition knowledge has been so beneficial to my own development. Using research databases for data entry and management has also been an added benefit. I am still surprised and extremely happy at the level of research training I received and the skill I have acquired in this scholar's experience.
I am very grateful to the CAFE Summer Scholars program for providing me with this excellent opportunity that has given me practical and extensive experience in research and added tremendously to my skill set.