Nicolas Woods and Rachel Brown Successfully Defend their MSc Theses

The HEAL would like to congratulate Nicolas Woods and Rachel Brown who successfully defended their theses under the supervision of Dr. Jamie Seabrook, Dr. Saverio Stranges and Dr. Jason Gilliland in 2020.

Smart APPetite

Nicolas Woods successfully defended his MSc thesis titled Breakfast Consumption and Diet Quality of Teens in Southwestern Ontario. Nicolas completed his MSc in Epidemiology and Biostatistics under the supervision of Dr. Jamie Seabrook, Dr. Saverio Stranges and Dr. Jason Gilliland. During his studies, he investigated breakfast skipping habits and Healthy Eating Index-2015 scores among teens in Southwestern Ontario.

Breakfast has been heralded as being the most important meal of the day, yet breakfast skipping among teens is a common phenomenon. Past research has largely found that teens who consume breakfast tend to have better diet quality, though much of this research comes from outside of Canada. Additionally, teens who eat breakfast tend to consume more calories, giving them an inherent advantage in consuming enough nutrients, when compared to skippers. This study sought to investigate the importance of breakfast among teens in Southwestern Ontario, by comparing the diet quality (on a per-calorie basis) of those who skip breakfast to those who consume breakfast.

512 teens recruited from secondary schools in Southwestern Ontario completed a 24-hour dietary recall. Teens who consumed breakfast tended to have better diet quality than those who skipped breakfast, but the difference was relatively minimal. Importantly, even among those who consumed breakfast, average diet quality was quite poor, suggesting that breakfast is likely not enough to meaningfully improve diet quality, compared to those who skipped.

This study, coupled with previous literature, suggests that simply advising teens to consume breakfast is likely not a sufficient strategy to improve overall diet quality, and if breakfast is truly the most important meal of the day, then more importance should be placed on the quality of breakfast, rather than simply the consumption of it. Initiatives such as a federally funded breakfast program represent one method of accessibility of a nutritious breakfast for teens, though participation in these programs can be quite varied. As such, it is important to address barriers to nutritious breakfasts while pursuing other avenues in improving teens’ diet quality, with the eventual goal of reducing the long-term risk for chronic diseases.

Smart APPetite

Rachel Brown successfully defended her MSc thesis titled Examining the Correlates of Adolescent Food and Nutrition in London, Ontario.  Rachel completed her MSc in Epidemiology and Biostatistics under the supervision of Dr. Jamie Seabrook. During her studies, she examined (1) the current state of food and nutrition knowledge among adolescents in grades 9-12 in the London-Middlesex region of Ontario; and (2) predictors of food knowledge among adolescents.

Diet quality tends to decrease in adolescence and remains suboptimal into adulthood. This is concerning because one’s diet early in life sets the foundation for their eating habits for the rest of their life. Poor eating habits, as well as diminished nutrition knowledge and food preparation skills are associated with an increase in nutrition-related non-communicable diseases. One factor that may influence dietary behaviour is a concept called food literacy. Food literacy can be described a set of skills that help individuals plan and prepare nutritious, tasty, and affordable meals with confidence. Food literacy involves having food and nutrition knowledge to understand where one’s food comes from, what is in it, as well as how the nutrients within food affects one’s health. It is increasingly important to understand what contributes to food and nutrition knowledge among adolescents because adolescents today may lack the basic understanding and skills necessary to develop health food habits.

To study this, Rachel utilized baseline data from SmartAPPetite, a five-year long population intervention, to examine food and nutrition knowledge among adolescents from the London-Middlesex area, and the individual, behavioural, and socio-economic factors related to food and nutrition knowledge. The results of this thesis found that knowledge scores were quite low, with an average total knowledge score of 54.6%, and average sub-scores of 59.8% for food knowledge and 52.2% for nutrition knowledge. These low knowledge scores are in line with previous research. An adolescent’s age, ethnicity, mental health, as well as using a mobile health application, liking to cook, and confidence in reading and understanding food labels were all significantly correlated with food and nutrition knowledge across the models. Likewise, higher median neighbourhood family income and household education were consistently correlated with greater food and nutrition knowledge among adolescents.

Overall, findings from this thesis may help guide policymakers, researchers, and public health professionals in developing appropriate food and nutrition programs and curriculums to combat the decline in food literacy skills.

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