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Mobile Unit Accelerates Nutrition Study Participation

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
January 27, 2003

Individuals, young or old, who aren't easily able to visit a research facility rarely get involved in nutrition studies. The problem is worse in large areas marked by very low population density. As a result, studies may fall short of including at-risk population segments.

But a newly outfitted mobile research unit has been acquired by the Agricultural Research Service's Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center (GFHNRC) in North Dakota. Psychologist James G. Penland,with the center's Mineral Nutrient Functions Research Unit, is a principal investigator and designer of the mobile unit, which actually brings lab studies to population segments formerly underserved.

The mobile lab is a 40-foot bus, custom-equipped to evaluate the nutrition and health of volunteers in home, work, school and other settings. On the bus, lab scientists evaluate volunteers' dietary intake, nutritional status, physical health, body composition and psychological function.

Costly major health problems that are improved with sound nutrition include diabetes, depression, cancer, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. The mobile unit supports the center's outreach programs to evaluate the relationship between sound nutrition and health. Four separate studies are now under way.

One ongoing study aims to extend the lab's previous zinc studies showing young childrens' attention, memory and reasoning improved with only 20 milligrams of supplemental zinc daily. Preliminary data indicate that increased zinc is also likely to benefit memory in adolescent boys and girls.

Another study surveyed three of the four American Indian reservations in North Dakota. Dietary intake data were collected and nutritional, fitness and mental health assessments were conducted. The researchers plan to use study results as a basis for interventions to improve nutrition, and ultimately the quality of life, among American Indians.

Read more on this in the January issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.