Carolyn Gunther is an Assistant Professor of Human Nutrition and Extension State Specialist entering her sixth year as faculty at The Ohio State University. Professor Gunther received her PhD from Purdue University in Nutrition Science and served as Director of Research in the College of Education and Human Ecology prior to joining the Ohio State faculty. Her research program is dedicated to discovering new knowledge surrounding one of today’s most pressing public health nutrition issues – overweight and obesity among underserved children and youth. Specifically, through observational and intervention research, her team is investigating the behavioral and environmental factors, both protective and detrimental, that influence a child’s risk for obesity. Findings generated from her work have direct implications regarding federal, state, and local foods and nutrition policy and programmatic reform. Dr. Gunther has authored or co-authored over 15 peer-reviewed journal articles in this area of inquiry, and her research is supported by competitive grants from the public and private sector. In recognition of her scholarly work, she has received competitive awards, including the Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor award at Ohio State. In addition, she has held elected leadership positions in her professional organizations, such as chair of the American Society for Nutrition’s Nutrition Education and Behavior Science Research Interest Section, and chair of the W2003 USDA Multi-State team. She also serves on the board of editors for the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, which recently awarded her with the Reviewer of Excellence award for the quality of her reviews.
Broadly, Dr. Gunther’s research centers on childhood obesity prevention. The specific foci are: 1) family meals in low-income populations; and 2) unhealthy summer weight gain in low-income elementary-age children.
Family meals The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends participation in family meals as a childhood obesity prevention strategy due to the literature demonstrating a protective effect of participation in healthy mealtime routines on child diet and weight. However, the current evidence linking family meals with improved child dietary intake and weight status has significant limitations. The majority of the family meals literature represents observational studies, demonstrating only an associative relationship of family meals with child diet and weight status. What’s more, racial and ethnic differences have been highly understudied; given that the segment of the U.S. child population with high prevalence of obesity is racial and ethnic minorities, this is an area in which additional research is needed. Similarly, the existing family meals intervention research is limited and primarily targets non-Hispanic White children (8 to 12 years old), particularly from well-educated families. In addition, the majority of the current research fails to examine the child health impact of family meals beyond BMI, with only a small number of studies including additional outcomes. Given the ongoing childhood obesity public health crisis and the potential protective effect of family meals, there is need for additional family meals research, specifically experimental studies with expanded health outcomes that focus on the at-risk populations in highest need of intervention. Future research, specifically intervention work, would also benefit from an expansion of the target age range to include younger children (4–7 year olds), who are laying the foundation of their eating patterns and are capable of participating in family meal preparations. My team is addressing this gap in the literature through the development and testing of a 10-week multi-component family meals intervention study, Simple Suppers, aimed at eliciting positive changes in child dietary intake and weight status. The Simple Suppers study was a two group quasi-experimental trial with staggered cohort design that targets underserved families with elementary school age children (4–10 years) and includes an examination of health outcomes beyond weight status. Preliminary findings demonstrate an effect of intervention on child (food preparation skills) and caregiver (self-efficacy, BMI, systolic BP) outcomes. Future research will examine the utility of a scale-up trial (multi-state or region). In addition, we are exploring research that would test the intervention in the clinic (primary care) setting where there is high need for impactful and cost effective behavioral approaches to prevent child overweight and obesity.
Summer weight gain Troubling data indicate that school-age children experience unhealthy gains in BMI at a rate nearly twice as fast during the summer months when school is out of session. African American and Hispanic children may be particularly vulnerable to unhealthy weight gain during these non-academic months. Preliminary data from my laboratory indicate a potential protective effect of summer programming (e.g., USDA Summer Food Service Program) on child weight status; however, it is not possible to reach this conclusion conclusively without the inclusion of a negative control (i.e., children who are not attending summer programming) in the study design. We are addressing this gap in knowledge by conducting an observational study (summer 2017) utilizing a multi-state prospective cohort design that examines the weight gain trajectory among a racially and ethnically diverse convenience sample of disadvantaged school-age children who attend structured programming on a routine basis during the summer months and those who don’t participate in structured programming. In addition, we will evaluate a subset of these children to learn their daily health behaviors, as well as their food, physical activity, and social environments during the summer months. We will also identify determinants of program participation and factors that may enhance the beneficial effects of program participation. Results from this work will provide critical information on the factors that protect disadvantaged children from unhealthy summer weight gain, which may be used by stakeholders at the local, state, and federal level to reform current policy that will increase child participation in health promoting programming during the summer window of risk. Findings from this study will inform future research steps, though, may likely involve a policy intervention, possibly in the form of a natural experiment.
- PhD, Nutrition, Purdue University, 2004
- BA, Biology, Taylor University, 1995
- 2016 - Distinguished Alumni Award (“110 Diamonds”), Department of Nutrition Science, Purdue University
- 2016 - Diversity Fellow, College of Education and Human Ecology, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Ohio State University
- 2014 - Reviewer of Excellence Award, Journal of Nutritional Education and Behavior
- 2013 - Distinguished Undergraduate Research Mentor Award, Ohio State University
Peer-reviewed Publications (Selected):
Rose R, Seger J, Nurko I, Kennel J, Hanks A, Gunther C. Short-Term Campus-Based Dairy Campaign is Effective in Promoting Awareness of Importance of Calcium Intake in College Students. Accepted at Forum for Family and Consumer Issues.
Rose A, Kennel JA, Hanks A, Gunther C. Milk vending does not improve college students’ milk and calcium intakes. Accepted at Health Promotion Practice.
Hopkins LC, Hooker N, Gunther C. [Epub ahead of print] Securing a Stop to the Summer Setback: Policy Considerations in the Future Potential Expansion of the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children. J Nutr Ed Behav.
Rogers C, Anderson S, Dollahite J, Miller C, Pratt K, Gunther C. Methods and Design of a 10-Week Multi-Component Family Meals Intervention: a Two Group Quasi-Experimental Effectiveness Trial. (2017) BMC Public Health. 17:50.1
Martinez Y, Banna JC, Bellajos M, Bruhn C, Cluskey M, Gunther C, Hongu N, Johnston P, Misner S, Reicks M, Richards R, Wong SS. (2016) Evaluation of messages to promote intake of calcium-rich foods in early adolescents. Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship. 9:110-120.
Hopkins LC, Fristad M, Goodway JD, Eneli I, Holloman C, Kennel JA, Melnyk B, Gunther C. (2016) Camp NERF: Methods of a theory-based nutrition education recreation and fitness program aimed at preventing unhealthy weight gain in underserved elementary children during summer months. BMC Public Health.16:1-12.1
Banna J, Reicks M, Gunther C, Bruhn B, Cluskey M, Richards R, Wong SS, Misner S, Hongu N, Johnston NP. (2016) Perceived effects of emotion-based messages on motivation of Hispanic and Asian parents of early adolescents to engage in calcium-rich food and beverage parenting practices. Nutr Res Pract. 10:456-463.
Reicks M, Banna J, Cluskey M, Gunther C, Hongu NK, Richards R, Topham G, Wong SS. (2015) Influence of parenting practices on eating behaviors of early adolescents during independent eating occasions: implications for obesity prevention. Nutrients. 7:8783-8801.
Hopkins LC, Gunther C. (2015) A Historical Review of Changes in Nutrition Standards of USDA Child Meal Programs Relative to Research Findings on the Nutritional Adequacy of Program Meals and the Diet and Nutritional Health of Participants: Implications for Future Research and the Summer Food Service Program. Nutrients. 7:10145-10167.
Gunther C, Rose A, Bruhn C, Cluskey M, Reicks MM, Richards R, Wong SS, Boushey CJ, Misner S, Olson B. (2015) Parents’ Calcium Knowledge Is Associated with Parental Practices to Promote Calcium Intake among Parents of Early Adolescent Children. Journal of Extension [On-line], 53(4) Article 6IAW4. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2015august/a5.php.
Monnat LE, Kennel J, Holloman C, Kaye G, Gunther C. (2014) Determining the feasibility of milk vending machines to improve calcium intake among college students. Journal of Human Sciences and Extension. 2:1-14.
Richards R, Reicks M, Wong SS, Gunther C, Cluskey M, Ballejos M, Bruhn C, Johnston NP, Misner S, Watters C. (2014) Identification of parental benefits derived from practices that promote intake of calcium-rich foods and beverages among early adolescent children. J Nutr Educ Behav. 46:595-601.
Rose A, Wagner A, Kennel J, Pennywitt J, Battista-Hesse M, Miller C, Murray R, Rogers K, Gunther C. (2014) Determining the feasibility and acceptability of a nutrition education and cooking program for preschoolers and their families delivered over the dinner hour in a low-income day care setting. ICAN: Infant, Child, and Adolescent Nutrition. 6:144-151.
Failla M, Gunther C. (2013) Feeding the development of underrepresented groups. International Innovation: Healthcare, August 2013 (Research Media, UK, pp 45-47), ISSN 2051-8501.
Gunther C, Branscum P, Kennel JA, Klein E, Monnat L, Kaye G. (2013) Examination of the Relationship of Dairy Product Consumption and Dietary Calcium with Body Mass Index Percentile in Children. International Journal of Child Health and Nutrition. 2:1-8.
Reicks M, Degeneffe D, Ghosh K, Bruhn C, Goodell SL, Gunther C, Auld G, Ballejos M, Boushey C, Cluskey M, Misner S, Olson B, Wong SS, Zaghloul S. (2012) Parent calcium-rich-food practices/perceptions are associated with calcium intake among parents and their early adolescent children. Public Health Nutr 15:331-340.
Reicks MM, Ballejos ME, Goodell SL, Gunther C, Richards R, Wong SS, Auld G, Boushey CJ, Bruhn C, Cluskey M, Misner S, Olson B, Zaghloul S. (2011) Personal and family correlates of calcium-rich food intake among parents of early adolescent children. J Am Diet Assoc. 111:376-384.