Lana Chehabeddine is currently a senior student researcher in the School of Human Development at the University of Miami. Lana will be graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Science in exercise physiology with minors in chemistry and art. She is also involved with research for a study called Guardrails under the guidance of Dr. Wesely Smith, a clinical assistant professor in the department of kinesiology and sport sciences. She has conducted this research under the two-year Undergrad Research Honors Program.
How did you get involved in research?
Our School of Human Development had a new undergraduate program called the Honors Research Undergraduate Program. Through this, the school wanted to bring research to the undergraduates. They nominated people from the human development major and, if you completed the undergraduate research program, you received honors on your degree. Through this program, I was able to get involved in research with Guardrails. Guardrails is a health-focused study with two parts: a nutrition section and a set of tests on metabolic risk factors.
What was your job within Guardrails?
The nutrition section is a questionnaire. You can’t really assess subjects on their blood markers … we don’t take blood or anything like that. So, we take a patient-reported questionnaire. First, Dr. Smith had a survey done himself but it wasn’t up-to-date and didn’t have research done on it. My job was to create a new survey for subjects to take. This survey was based on prior research and recent findings. Not only did I choose the questions, but I also had to order the questions in the survey on the order of importance and pretty much revamp the questionnaire. My part is basically behind the scenes as I don’t have much contact with the subjects.
What is the questionnaire like?
We started with 20 questions but we narrowed it down to 17, picking the most important ones. We wanted the questionnaire to be as precise and accurate as possible. As for the order, we started with the most important questions and ended with the least important. The first question starts out with “How many green leafy vegetables do you eat per day?” This is because we found consumption of green leafy vegetables to be one of the most important predictors of preventing chronic diseases.
What is the most important aspect of Guardrails?
The most important aspect of Guardrails is to try to assess someone’s health within 10 minutes … then tell them, based off of what you know in those 10 minutes, if they should maintain their health in different aspects or if they should enhance it (for example, eating more vegetables, avoiding soda, so on and so forth). It gives them an automatic response in a printout which they can take home. In order to get this feedback, they must come into the lab to take these tests.
What do you do with the data you collected?
We have a little over 200 participants that we have data on and my job is to look at the data and see how correlated the nutrition scores are to their metabolic risk factors. The nutrition scores are based off of the questionnaires, while the metabolic risk factors (like body fat percentage, VO2 max and waist-circumference-to-height ratio) are all obtained during the assessment in the lab. The more significant the correlation between the survey and the metabolic risk factors, the more accurate the survey.
What have you found when analyzing this data so far?
So far, out of 10 variables that we have used, the two biggest significant factors that we have found are physical activity level and VO2 max. VO2 max is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption during physical activity. We didn’t directly calculate the VO2 max, but instead worked with a graduate student who had created an algorithm to calculate the predicted VO2 max. So far it has shown to be very significant.
What are your future goals in regards to this research?
We are still in the process of obtaining results and conclusions but I have begun to work on the abstract now — I have to apply for the undergraduate research forum to present in March.
What advice do you have for other students trying to get involved in research?
My advice is for students to take advantage of the opportunities that come their way and to be active about chasing their goals. Life doesn’t always hand you things — you must work for it. Also, reach out to professors and ask for their advice because they might be working on research or know others who need assistance. It is important to always try to connect with people around you; it should guarantee some good results.