Ann Irvin Armstrong
Ann Irvin Armstrong, a food and nutrition services graduate student from Jackson, recently took home gold for the Masters category in the three-minute thesis at the University of Mississippi.
This annual competition asks doctoral students to provide a compelling, recorded explanation of their subject for research and what it means in just three minutes. You can only use one PowerPoint slide.
Armstrong’s research is based on a grant for reshaping critical thinking received from her senior professor Nadeeja Wijayatunga, an assistant professor in the Department of Food and Hotel Management and director of the NORA Laboratory for Nutrition and Obesity Research (NORA). The project looks at the effects of ageism on the delivery and quality of health care.
“I hope our research draws attention to the discrimination faced by the older adult community not just in healthcare but in all aspects of daily life,” said Armstrong. “I hope people will know better what ageism is and how harmful it can be to the health and wellbeing of older adults.
“I hope our research will reduce alterism and its harmful effects on the older adult population. Caring for all members of the community means providing the best possible care for the older adults in our community. I hope our research changes the way older adults are most commonly treated in our society. “
Wijayatunga received the scholarship through the UM Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning’s Quality Improvement Program to improve one of the lessons in a course she teaches to encourage critical thinking.
“My main area of research is studying the bio-behavioral aspects of obesity and unhealthy lean,” said Wijayatunga. “Another area is the study of the weight stigma in healthcare.
“Ageism is a new area of research for me. So when I add it to weight bias research, I can say that I expand my research to include various prejudices and educational interventions to reduce bias in healthcare.”
The goal of the research team was to reduce alterism in students who will one day be nutritionists or work in health care. Wijayatunga designed the intervention to identify implicit and explicit prejudices against the aging population.
This is a joint study with Teresa Carithers, Interim Chair of the Department of Applied Gerontology and Professor of Food and Hotel Management, and Joseph Wellman, Assistant Professor of Social Psychology. Wijayatunga commends Armstrong’s commitment and work in conducting the study and further recognizes her doctorate. Student in the NORA laboratory, Michael Hays, who also helped conduct the study.
Armstrong highlighted the research at the recent 3MT competition, where it demonstrated “The Effectiveness of Education in Age Reduction in Students in a Beginners Nutrition Class.” She responded to the research question: “Does online education against ageism reduce ageism among undergraduate nutrition students?”
The researchers have already carried out the preliminary survey, a 20-minute online educational intervention, an immediate follow-up questionnaire and a two-week follow-up questionnaire, and assume that alterism in the intervention group will decline.
“Ageism is widespread in both the population and the healthcare sector,” said Wijayatunga. “In addition, ageism has increased during the pandemic. All healthcare workers should have cultural competence and knowledge of working with older adults. “
Educating prospective health care workers about alterism should help as most people may not be aware of it, Wijayatunga said, noting that she had heard of the problem before starting this study. Wijayatunga worked as a doctor in Sri Lanka before joining the academy, and she hopes these research and teaching efforts will improve the lives of older adults.
“I taught the same educational content in my NHM 311 class regardless of the research study,” said Wijayatunga. “I was delighted to see that many students in my class recognized that this was the first time they had heard of ageism and that learning about it changed their minds and that they will try not to be biased.
“Some even said they would fight back if it happened in their workplace. This has achieved the goal of the QEP grant as reducing prejudice is important to student learning. I look forward to analyzing the results of the study. “
The study is of great relevance as the country’s aging population will be larger than the younger ones in 2026. By 2030, one in five Americans is expected to be 65 years of age and older.
“To me, winning this competition means that I can do whatever I am determined to do,” said Armstrong. “It means that I can achieve really great things even when they seem out of reach.
“It means that all of the hard work Dr. Wijayatunga and I invested in this research study. I am so honored that my presentation was selected as one of the winners and that the audience was interested in learning more about the research we did. “
You can find more information about the master’s program in Food and Nutrition at UM at https://nhm.olemiss.edu/ or send an email to Yunhee Chang at [email protected].
By Sarah Sapp