Priya Krishnakumar, an alumna of the Department of Dietetics & Nutrition at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work, won first place in this year’s Division of Nutrition Education for Children’s poster competition hosted by the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB).
The competition took place during SNEB’s 2021 Annual Conference, one of the premier international conferences for nutrition education professionals.
Krishnakumar presented a research poster highlighting results from her doctoral dissertation on a virtual child obesity prevention program she launched, focusing on Asian Indian fathers in South Florida.
“I was reading articles on how fathers are the forgotten parents in nutrition education programs even though they exert important influences in a child’s life in terms of eating behavior or physical activity,” Krishnakumar said. “Children tend to imitate things like their father’s diet and physical activity, yet there are very few interventions that involve or target fathers for achieving healthy outcomes in children.”
Born and raised in Kerala, India, Krishnakumar narrowed her focus on the Asian Indian population living in the United States. She shared that women have a support network in India and primarily hold responsibility for child-rearing activities like feeding.
“When you come to a place like the United States, where you may not have family support, it can be a bit challenging for women, especially since many are in the workforce. So, I wanted to work with Indian men who are supporting women with parenting.”
In 2018, she conducted her first needs assessment survey and collected data from 80 Asian Indian fathers in South Florida. She tapped community organizations, temples, and churches to gather data that helped her understand the responsibility that fathers perceived towards child mealtimes and the kind of resources they needed to better care for their children’s healthy eating and lifestyle behavior.
“Half of them were interested in a nutrition education program if it was offered online," she said. "And most of them wanted to learn about nutrition and how to improve health as a family to contribute to their child’s health, especially when the mother is not home.”
The group shared that they were most interested in online education programs that they could access during their available time and that could communicate what type of food to give their children based on standard recommendations. With the support from Catherine Coccia, associate professor of Dietetics & Nutrition at Stempel College, Krishnakumar developed a website that the fathers could log into to access these types of resources.
Throughout the 6 weeks of her program, Krishnakumar checked in with the fathers to see how they were doing. At the end of the program and during follow-up, she noted significant improvements in their nutrition knowledge, confidence in establishing a healthy diet in children and regulating their intake of unhealthy foods. Improvements were also noted in the reported fruit and vegetable intake of children.
“I know I can’t reach the whole population, but I learned through my study how to best reach a targeted group and how to package information in a way that doesn’t overwhelm them,” she said.
Krishnakumar shared that she’s excited to share her study with the world and hopes to publish her findings soon.
“We are very proud of Priya for finding creative solutions to reach an underrepresented and under-researched group in child obesity prevention research,” said Coccia. “Priya’s work truly embodies the vision of the department to conduct research that promotes nutrition as a critical part of disease prevention and to train dietetics and nutrition professionals that are sensitive to the needs of a culturally diverse population.”
College Factual ranked the Dietetics and Nutrition program at Stempel College 4th overall in the nation and 6th for best value. To learn more about a degree in Dietetics & Nutrition, go here.