Dr. Debra M. Palmer-Keenan teaches two graduate level Community Nutrition/Research Methods Courses; oversee two statewide nutrition education programs targeted toward limited-resource, diverse, urban audiences (NJ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Education SNAP-Ed) and the NJ Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP); and operates a research program primarily directed towards issues faced by the audience reached in EFNEP/SNAP-Ed. Her one project that deviates from working with low-income audiences is serving on a Multi-State Research Project on the topic of omega-3 consumption, for which she is leading the development and testing of a USDA consumer website on this project. The majority of her lab's research over the past 10 years has focused on: issues regarding household food insecurity; the evaluation of innovative methods of providing nutrition education; and incorporating physical activity education into nutrition education venues.
Most of the larger Community Nutrition (Education) Programs in the US target limited-resource individuals. This is an important audience because many of the limited resource adults that we work with throughout the state have a difficult time maintaining enough food to feed their families. In other words, they are not food secure. Many of our program participants have developed coping mechanisms for improving their household food security. Unfortunately, their anecdotes suggest that many of the coping strategies they have adopted are fundamentally unsafe. For example, people report the purchase of meat from people who butcher animals in their cellars or people who fish in contaminated waters. To that end Dr. Palmer-Keenan's lab conducted a research study to catalogue the practices, and is in the process of determining both the relative risk associated with the various practices, as well as the prevalence of their use among New Jersey's low-income residents.
More recently Dr. Palmer-Keenan's lab has turned its attention to physical activity among low-income peoples, and means of increasing it via nutrition education, i.e., SNAP-Ed and EFNEP, classroom intervention. One project, funded by a USDA National Research Initiative and further supported by the Rutgers Food Policy Institute and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, resulted in the development of a DVD that contains 6-20 minute walking activities for classroom use. This DVD was produced in collaboration with a nationally known fitness expert, i.e., Leslie Sansone, and features a culturally, gender, body size and ethnically diverse cast.
Initial research regarding the use of the DVD in SNAP-Ed and EFNEP classes has been promising. However, although it has been successfully integrated into classes and enjoyed by class participants, the tool used to assess whether or not it resulted in a reduction in exercise barriers, as the research team suspect that it has, failed to show ample change. Upon further investigation it came to light that the only exercise barrier scale available for use with adults was not only found to be sufficient for use with low-income audiences by Dr. Palmer-Keenan's lab, but in other published work with low-income groups, as well. To that end, another project underway in Dr. Palmer-Keenan's lab is the development of a tool to assess exercise barriers among low-income audiences.
Finally, Dr. Palmer-Keenan and her lab are heading up the development and assessment of a new USDA eXtension (pronounced E – X – tension) website to provide up-to-date, research-based information to consumers on omega-3 fatty acids (n-3s), and how they can be increased via n-3 rich foods.