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CHS professor evaluates newsletter to improve nutrition among older Iowans

Sarah Francis, an assistant professor in the Iowa State University Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, is working to ensure older Iowans are receiving adequate nutritional instruction.

Through a Wellmark Foundation grant, Francis is evaluating and revising materials for the Chef Charles Club, a nutrition education program that uses a monthly newsletter targeted at older adults to promote health and overall wellness.

Francis recently completed a six-month study to determine the effects of the revised newsletter and instruction program on the nutritional status of participants. She found that the new materials reduced nutritional risk and led to an increase in vegetable and dairy consumption among participants in the treatment groups.

The Chef Charles Club newsletter is designed for adults 60 and older who participate in congregate meals at more than 440 meal sites in Iowa. Those sites, run by the Iowa Department on Aging, are places where older adults can gather for nutritious meals and socialization.

The newsletter provided by the Chef Charles Club encourages readers to eat more healthy foods, to be more physically active each day, and to prepare and cook foods safely.

Along with distribution of the newsletter, the club also provides a nutrition volunteer to visit meal sites once a month to lead the newsletter program.

Doris Montgomery, state coordinator for the Iowa Nutrition Network and coordinator of the Chef Charles Club, said the program benefited from Francis’ knowledge.

“We wanted to know if we could…get better results if we followed a more prescriptive, evidence-based approach to selecting what we wrote in the newsletter,” Montgomery said. “Sarah has expertise in nutrition education and older adults – plus the research experience that allowed her to design an appropriate study.”

One of the keys changes implemented by Francis was to develop a strong theoretical starting point, which was absent in the previous newsletter.

“We find that in nutrition education, you need to have an educational theory base in order to increase the likelihood of promoting behavior change,” Francis said.

Using a health behavior change model as the foundation, Francis developed a new template for the newsletter that was more interactive and concise. She also streamlined the volunteer instructor guide.

Carlene Russell, nutrition program director at the Iowa Department on Aging and co-creator of the program, said it is always good to have program evaluation.

“We tested the new newsletter format and were able to document that the Chef Charles program does reduce nutritional risk scores,” Russell said. “These results led us to make positive changes to make the newsletter.”

Russell is excited about the potential impact of Francis’ research.

“This feedback gave us good insight on how to expand the program,” Russell said. “We currently distribute 3,000 newsletters to these meal sites, and the plan is to keep expanding,”

Contacts:

Sarah Francis, assistant professor, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, 515-294-1456, slfranci@iastate.edu

Doris Montgomery, state coordinator, Iowa Nutrition Network, 515-661-7913, doris.montgomery@idph.iowa.gov

Carlene Russell, nutrition program director, Iowa Department on Aging, 515-725-3330, carlene.russell@iowa.gov

Tara Lackey, graduate assistant, College of Human Sciences, 515-294-9424, hsnews1@iastate.edu