Preparation is underway for the final round of testing in Cal Poly’s one-of-a-kind research study: FLASH. Volunteers are needed this quarter to start training in order to be ready to test as many as 2,000 student participants in the spring, study founder Ann McDermott said.
FLASH tracks the health, behavior and lifestyle choices of students at Cal Poly. Before FLASH, there was no hard data on college student’s health, and the assumption was being made that all Cal Poly students were healthy, McDermott said.
“We can’t just look at a person walking around campus and say, ‘That is a healthy person,’” McDermott said.
This realization prompted McDermott, a kinesiology professor, to look for research on the health of college students. She said there was virtually no literature on college students. All that was out there was survey data — the type that merely polls people about their heath. But what students think about their health can be very different from reality, she said.
“We had to find the data for ourselves,” McDermott said. “‘Learn By Doing’ is Cal Poly’s philosophy. This is one of the best ways to teach Cal Poly students about research methods and health assessment and prepare them for their future careers.”
In Spring 2008, McDermott launched a sample study of 911 students. The sample study had two parts: a physical assessment and a survey. Since then, 2,257 physical assessments have been performed and 6,733 surveys have been taken, McDermott said.
“Before the physical assessment, CSU Fullerton distributes surveys to student participants on their health and behavior so that the answers can be private and anonymous,” McDermott said. “No names are seen; they are given a number by Fullerton and that number goes with their physical assessments results.”
The survey is vital to the study because it gives a snapshot of health behavior and environmental influences to go along with the physical results, McDermott said. The survey covers nutrition, sleep, stress, technology use, activities, drinking, smoking, drug use and medications.
Lifestyle choices and health go hand in hand. McDermott said one key influence for students is the amount of stress they are experiencing, because stress can lead to many other things.
“We want to know if you are stressed so you don’t have time to be active,” McDermott said. “Are you unhealthy because you eat bad food since you don’t have time to cook; can you not sleep because you are too stressed? Using this studies results, we then can tell Cal Poly where they should put their money, and where the changes should be made.”
The medical community will benefit from the complete FLASH study as well. It is currently forced to apply either high school data to college students, or mid-20s to early-30s data, McDermott said.
“Unless you actually study that population and watch how it changes through behavior and environmental factors, you may be doing the right thing but chances are you’re wrong” she said. “This should be a nationally known study about the health of college students by college students. We have already given about eight presentations about FLASH at different medical conferences.”
Even though the current study results will not be analyzed until after the last round of testing, the sample study of 911 female and male students produced some shocking results, McDermott said.
“In the sample group, less than 50 percent of participants had normal blood pressure and in the men, 1-in-3 had normal blood pressure,” McDermott said.
Salt intake, sleep, stress, caffeinated products and minimal fruit and vegetable consumption are all factors that can affect blood pressure. It is very important to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, McDermott said. They carry nutrients that relax blood vessels, which lowers blood pressure.
Because the medical community does not expect students to have a problem with their blood pressure, these statistics were unexpected, said co-program coordinator of FLASH Jane Hurley. High blood pressure can lead to serious heart diseases.
“With heart disease being the No. 1 killer in America, these results show that there may not be an end in sight in the younger generation,” Hurley said.
To be able to find out the blood pressure rates of students on campus, volunteers are needed to take the measurements.
The FLASH team is gearing up for its biggest — and last — testing period ever. FLASH needs 50 more volunteers to become A-Team research assistants so they can start training this quarter, McDermott said. The A-Team consists of the students who conduct FLASH data collection.
“If this study was done at another school, it would cost $350,000 a year,” McDermott said. “Yet we are able to do it for $75,000 because of the student involvement of conducting the research and running the campaign.”
The students involved range from senior project students, to volunteers, to enrolled students in the Health Ambassadors class — KINE 471. Kallyn Waddington, for example, participates in FLASH for her senior project.
“FLASH is a great opportunity for volunteers to get hands on experience in the physical assessment, research and marketing world,” Waddingtion said. “It is a very important study and helping it become one of the largest campus-wide studies in the nation is an amazing opportunity.”
But A-Team does a whole lot more than physical assessments. The A-Team is in charge of organizing test sites, working the hours and marketing FLASH and its test sites, Waddington said.
“For my senior project, I will be a part of the marketing and advertising team,” Waddington said. “We make in-class presentations to recruit A-Team volunteer members, people to take the tests next quarter, and to inform the student body about FLASH.”
They also market by hosting booths on Dexter Lawn, launching a Facebook page people can “Like” to stay updated on information, posting flyers and attending club and greek organization meetings.
Majors other than kinesiology are also encouraged to become volunteers to add variety to how FLASH is conducted, Hurley said.
“We like to have other majors volunteer because they see things differently than us,” Hurley said. “Kinesiology students see a fitness test and say ‘Oh, where can I sign up?,’ but we want to learn how to get the rest of the student population to get involved.”
Students who do not know how to perform the tests, or have never before administered physical assessments should not be worried. The FLASH team will hold trainings for volunteers.
“A minimum of four hours of training is provided before being able to conduct assessment research,” Hurley said.
Volunteers measure participant’s height, weight, blood pressure and waist circumference. Body composition is also tested to determine the difference in muscle and fat content that an individual has. Each individual test is important to the overall goal that FLASH wants to accomplish.
“The same waist circumference on two people with different heights or weights can mean very different things,” Hurley said.
For example, a waist circumference of 30 inches for a person who is 5-feet-tall will have different health meanings for a 6-foot-3-inch person with a 30 inch waist.
To get a true representation of the students at Cal Poly, FLASH encourages people to not only volunteer but to also take the survey and get assessed. This will ensure that the study mirrors a true cross-section of college health on campus, McDermott said.
“We want everybody,” McDermott said.
This article was written by Addie Dyer.