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STANFORD -- A Stanford University research team has received $1.1 million effective Aug. 1 to help adults with low literacy learn about better eating habits and then find ways to get more nutritious food.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) allocated $1.1 million effective Aug. 1 to the Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention (SCRDP) for a five-year project, announced Dr. Stephen P. Fortmann, the principal investigator on the project and deputy director of the SCRDP.

Receiving similar grants are the University of Minnesota, the University of North Carolina and Pennsylvania State University.

Other studies have shown a high correlation between low income and low literacy and that low income persons tend to have higher risk factors, including a greater possibility that they smoke or are overweight, said Fortmann, an associate professor of medicine.

The Stanford team plans to develop educational materials and workshops to provide information that doesn't require a high reading level or an understanding of technical vocabulary.

"An innovative program won't be effective unless people have healthy food choices available, however," said project co- director Dr. Marilyn Winkleby, an SCRDP epidemiologist.

"We will work with agencies which provide food products or meals for low income persons to increase the availability of healthy food that is appealing to low income from families from various ethnic backgrounds.

"For example," Winkelby said, "soup kitchens which provide food on a daily basis can modify their recipes and order foods from government suppliers which are lower in fat and empty calories."

Fortmann said researchers are expected to work directly with participants in the Santa Clara County Expanded Food and Nutrition Program, which is a federal and state supported nonprofit organization providing nutrition information to low income persons. The researchers in the project will explore what methods might be best to improve nutrition among the agency's clients.

Specific efforts might include distributing simple, attractive recipe cards showing how to make the best use of items distributed in food baskets, or cooking demonstrations by low income women using free federally-supplied food.

By the end of the five-year program, Fortmann said researchers will expect to develop a package of materials and methods which can be adapted and used in a variety of situations and locations by community educators or volunteers.

"The nutrition materials and methods we use will pay attention to the cultural backgrounds of participants. For example, we may find that increasing family participation in food selection and preparation will be an appealing and motivating factor," said Dr. Beth Howard-Pitney, a social psychologist, another SCRDP researcher who will lead the project.

"This type of study, like all of our efforts, will involve working intimately with members of the local community at developing strategies that are relevant and effective," said the fourth project co-director, Dr. Cheryl Albright, who holds degrees in both psychology and public health.


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