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Examining nutrition in the elderly. When thinking about malnutrition, images of starving children may come to mind, perhaps in the form of a Save the Children commercial. However, the National Institute on Aging has identified malnutrition in elderly Americans as a national priority. In a three-year study now under way, Barbara Millen, School of Public Health associate dean for research and professor of nutrition and public health, will determine the causes and consequences of malnutrition in the homebound elderly.

Homebound elderly, she explains, stay in because of physical disabilities or safety worries, and thus may not be able to shop for or prepare healthy food. "There are also psychological reasons for malnutrition," she says, such as depression, which often stems from loneliness and isolation, medications that reduce the appetite, and chewing and swallowing problems.

"There's surprisingly little information on nutrition-related problems in the elderly," she says, "and even less on risk factors and guidelines for clinical practice and interventions." To date, her research team has been visiting homes to assess nutrition, physical and mental health, and what outside health services are used. "We expect to find problems ranging from low weight and muscle mass to vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies," she explains. "The other extreme is obesity, with its complications -- diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease."

Millen believes her findings will lead to new guidelines for elder care that especially address nutrition. "This will, ultimately, enable elderly people to remain independent and in their homes for as long as possible," she says.

Ray bans. About the last thing on kids' minds during the summer is preventing skin cancer. Robert Lew, adjunct associate professor of dermatology at the School of Medicine, is trying to change their minds about this with his three-year study aimed at preventing skin cancer by educating day camp participants about the hazards of sun exposure.

"The idea is to have counselors urge kids to wear shirts and hats, use sunscreen, and stay in the shade, in a way that ties in to the fun of the camp -- with games, contests, and other activities," he explains. "They'll also get the campers to take the message home." The first year of the study focused on finding methods of sun protection and training the counselors to teach them. The second stage, begun this past June, implemented the methods in six Boston-area day camps.

Children from ages 5 to 12 were taught about the importance of sun protection as well as some little-known facts. Few people realize, for example, that they can get sunburned on a cloudy day, through water, and through clothing. The research team measured the results by observing children playing in the sun and by giving questionnaires to families at both the beginning and the end of summer. "We're looking at data right now and should have some firm results in January," he says. "But the camps seemed pleased with the program." In the final year of the study, Lew and his team will distribute the skin-care program to camps around the country.

"Research Briefs" is written by Joan Schwartz in the Office of the Provost. To read more about BU research, visit


15 May 2003
Boston University
Office of University Relations