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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Volunteers CAN make a Difference in U.S. Health Policy!
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By Lisa Jahns

You remember us.  The USDA-ARS Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center has been conducting cutting-edge human nutrition research since 1976. Odds are that you know someone who has volunteered for such studies, or you may have been a volunteer yourself.

What you may not know is that the Center has recently changed its focus, and hired several enthusiastic new senior scientists.  The current foundation of the Center's research is obesity prevention.  As a consequence, Center researchers are now recruiting for a variety of exciting new studies, and more studies will be added often. 

These studies are varied:  some consist of answering questionnaires, others ask volunteers to eat certain foods or to wear small devices that monitor movement, and some require staying overnight for weeks or months.  Some studies are looking at what moms think, while others target families with children or older folks. 

All of the Center's studies are conducted after first submitting research proposals to the University of North Dakota's Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB completes a thorough review of each proposal--and approvals are granted in writing. This review process, along with our more than 30 years of human nutrition research, further strengthens the element of trust between the center and you, our valued community volunteers.

Below are some highlights of the Center's current studies, but keep checking our web site for new volunteer opportunities! 

Protein and Weight Loss Study: Once again, the Center is collaborating with the U. S. Army Institute for Research in Environmental Medicine.  Local volunteers are allowing us to control everything they eat by actually living at the Center for 31 days.  This pioneering research will lead to a better understanding of how to help soldiers as well as civilians striving to achieve healthy weight balance throughout life.  Soldiers in today's military face numerous physiological challenges, including prolonged physical activity and sustained periods of less-than-recommended-calorie intake, called "negative energy balance". Long-term negative energy balance often results in a loss of skeletal muscle mass and can reduce overall bone health. The effects of negative energy balance on musculoskeletal health could diminish performance and increase the risk for injury, thus compromising the success of the mission. Recent experimental evidence has shown that dietary interventions that provide protein in excess of the current national dietary recommendation may offer protection against the negative effects of energy deficiency on the musculoskeletal system.

Pregnancy Study: This study looks at nutritional factors during pregnancy.  If you or someone you know are 18 years or older, and are in 14 or less weeks of first pregnancy, you may be eligible to volunteer.

How Families Eat and Play:  This study looks at moms who have at least one 3-10 year old child to participate in a research study called "How Families Eat and Play". The purpose of this study is to find out about children's' eating and physical activity patterns and to also explore their relatives' or guardians' eating, physical activity and parenting practices.

Additional studies in the community this spring also include:

HEALTH Study:  The Healthy Eating and Lifestyle for Total Health study will ask mothers of 5th graders and their children to help us to understand what makes it hard for people to follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, as implemented by MyPyramid ( 

LENAS Study: The Life In All Seasons study will investigate changes in how women eat and are active at different times of the year.  This study will not only help us to give advice to people about their eating and activity, but volunteers also will learn a lot about themselves!

Your contribution as a volunteer is what makes the research at the Human Nutrition Research Center so valuable.  While the opportunity to earn extra money is an incentive (especially during tough economic times), being part of a process that is dedicated to improving the health of the entire nation also motivates many of our volunteers.

The results of our studies will continue to be published in national and international journals. And more importantly, our research results will continue to be routinely sought out by food policy groups.  You DO make a difference when you volunteer, and we value your involvement!

Last Modified: 8/13/2016
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