December 2, 2010

A University of Kentucky College of Agriculture graduate student recently studied Kentuckians' knowledge about pollution and whether that information leads them to make healthier choices to lessen its effects.

Beth Willett, a graduate student in dietetics administration, works with the Community Engagement Core of UK's Superfund Research Program. This group, led by UK Professor Lisa Gaetke, provides research-based, nutrition education to individuals who may have been exposed to environmental pollutants.  "When we understand how people view pollution and their concerns with their areas, it helps us become better educators for them," Willett said.

In the project, Willett surveyed people from three different locations across the state in locales with and without hazardous waste sites. She also surveyed Cooperative Extension agents, who oftentimes provide community health education. The survey asked them about their perceptions of pollution, environmental health and nutritional issues.

The goal was to see which types of pollution each group thought were the most harmful to their health and whether they take healthy steps to boost their immune systems and limit exposure because of their concern about certain pollutants. Beth's work will help in the development of educational programs to target the nutritional needs of Kentucky citizens exposed to environmental pollutants.

"Her survey found that when people are more aware of pollutants in their environment, they're more likely to be concerned about them and take personal action to lessen their exposure and improve their health," said Gaetke, who works in the UK Department of Nutrition and Food Science in the School of Human Environmental Sciences.

Willett's research recently earned her first place in the biomedical student poster competition of universities that are a part of the National Institutes for Health's Superfund Research Program. Participating universities included Harvard, Brown, Dartmouth, University of North Carolina and the University of California, Berkeley.

News Topics: