Faculty of Arts students are making a diverse mark in the area of health and wellness research this summer, from tackling the problem of insomnia in pregnant women to examining dietary diversity among the indigenous Makushi people of Guyana.
Psychology student Zahra Clayborne and Archaeology’s Natasha Hoehn are two recipients of the prestigious Markin Undergraduate Student Research Program in Health and Wellness. Established in 2002, the Markin USRP provides funding for undergraduates as they are introduced to all aspects of the research process.
Interested in the fields of preventive medicine and public health, Clayborne has been drawn to research the effectiveness of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT-I) in pregnant women. CBT-I is the gold standard intervention for insomnia recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. It refers to a series of proven behavioural prescriptions and stress reduction techniques.
Despite CBT-I’s proven effectiveness, however, there has been a dearth of research as to its possible benefits for pregnant women suffering from insomnia. “Looking at prior research, CBT-I is as effective, if not superior, to medication in the long term,” says Clayborne. “This is particularly important in pregnancy, as women may not want to take medications if they feel it could affect their child.”
She adds: “We know that sleep problems are very common among pregnant women. CBT-I is an evidence-based treatment, which makes it an excellent alternative to medication among this population.”
Guided by her supervisor Lianne Tomfohr, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, Clayborne is conducting an open pilot study to determine whether CBT-I is valuable to pregnant women with sleep problems.
“Hopefully, getting this work out there will motivate clinicians to make CBT-I a first-line treatment approach for pregnant women with sleeping problems,” says Clayborne.
As for Hoehn, her research project was inspired by a course in nutritional anthropology which she took with Warren Wilson, associate professor in archaeology. Wilson has done extensive work with the Makushi, an indigenous group that lives in the Rupununi area of the Amazon in Guyana and Brazil. In the process he has accumulated a huge amount of dietary data on the Makushi people which needs to be analyzed.
Working under Wilson, Hoehn is analyzing this data using a new protocol called dietary diversity scores, in which subjects receive scores based on the number of food groups they consume in one day. Diets that involve more food groups are deemed more adequate than those with less.
“Indigenous Amazonians tend to have a poor health status compared to their national counterparts,” notes Hoehn. “However, due to certain difficulties associated with working in the Amazon, there is a lack of explanatory research to assess this problem.”
Hoehn explains that traditional methods used to assess dietary adequacy are time-consuming, costly and tedious. “A simplified protocol is desperately needed to assess population level nutritional status,” she says. “The current protocol needs to be improved upon when working with people in developing countries. The use of dietary diversity scores has the potential to fill this niche.”
Hoehn adds: “Diet plays a large role in determining health outcomes. This research will help fill the large gap in literature concerning the dietary health of indigenous Amazonian peoples.”
Find out more about the about the Markin USRP in Health and Wellness.