An associate professor at the University of Rhode Island is conducting a study on improving children’s diets through direct home visits, cooking demonstrations, nutrition and meal advising for parents.

Dr. Allison Tovar, a professor of Nutrition and Food Science, is working with the Community Nutrition and Obesity Prevention Research Group at URI to help young, disadvantaged children learn about proper nutrition and develop healthy eating habits.

“Our group is dedicated to working across multiple disciplines while utilizing a socio-ecological framework to intervene within multiple environments where a young child spends time,” said Tolvar’s mission statement. “We are also interested in further understanding the influence of feeding practices of multiple caregivers including parents, center child care providers, and home child care providers on a child’s dietary intake and weight.”

With Tovar’s study of bringing help on nutrition directly into households, the opportunity and probability of families developing habits for life will hopefully impact the number of cases of obesity in disadvantaged children.

Tovar believes her study is important in today’s society because poor nutritional habits can be corrected but many people are unsure of how to do so. “Given the high prevalence of childhood obesity among low income and ethnically diverse groups, prevention is critical,” Tovar stated.

Tovar began working on this study over the summer of 2018 and the second phase will take place over the upcoming summer. According to URI Today’s feature on Tovar’s study, she and her team are “Funded by a three year, $730,000 grant from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.”

The following students have been working with Tovar: Noereem Mena, MS, RD; Kate Balestracci, MS, RD; Meg Fallon, MS; Amy Moore; Laura Otterbach; Maggie Tsai; Tayla Carter; and Jessie Boukarim. Tovar and her team have published some of their research labs and presentations in scholarly academic journals, which can be viewed in a showcase on the first floor of Fogarty Hall.

A double major in Nutrition and Biological Sciences, Jack Piscitellii believes that this study will be very beneficial to communities. “I think it’s extremely important to start shaping their diets into something good and healthy since you only get one body and a poor diet can do irreparable damage,” Piscitelli states.

To learn more about preventing childhood obesity, visit their website at