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SPICE-Healthcare: Dietary assessments for culturally diverse older adults


A cross-campus team of researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, led by Kinesiology and Community Health Assistant Professor Mina Raj, has received two grants to test an online platform designed to help dietitians, clinicians and food service personnel make dietary assessments and care plans that are tailored to patients’ medical and cultural needs. 

The web-based platform to Support Personalized and Inclusive Cuisines in Environments for Healthcare (SPICE-Healthcare), is in line to receive nearly $120,000 in grant support to test its usability with community partner ClarkLindsey Village and other healthcare organizations. 

“We will conduct usability testing locally but also with clinicians from other parts of the country,” Raj said. 

Raj focuses her research at the College of Applied Health Sciences on healthcare administration and disparities, particularly on supporting the needs of diverse older adults and family caregivers. Her preliminary studies inform the purpose of SPICE-Healthcare. 

Collaborators include KCH Associate Professor Naiman Khan, an expert in nutrition and health behaviors and outcomes; Margarita Teran-Garcia, assistant dean and program leader of Integrated Health Disparities at Illinois Extension; Ian Brooks, director of Center of Health Informatics; and Lisa Gatzke, who leads the User Interface and User Experience Team at The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). 

“This team has been in conversations for over a year contributing their expertise in nutrition, community outreach, informatics, and design to come up with the platform that aims to improve health service delivery for culturally diverse older adults,” Raj said. “Working together across disciplines has been pivotal to bringing this idea to reality.”
To develop and test this electronic-dietary assessment tool (eDA), the team received a $50,000 seed grant from the Personalized Nutrition Initiative, a University of Illinois project led by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, partnered with Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology and College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at Illinois.

The Personalized Nutrition Initiative recruits an interdisciplinary group of researchers to investigate ways to optimize human health by making nutrition recommendations based on the individual’s genetics, microbiome and metabolome, along with their dietary history and phenotype. 

Another $68,210 is heading to the project from Illinois Chancellor Robert Jones’ Call to Action Research Program, an annual $2 million commitment that funds research targeting racial inequities and injustices.  

SPICE-Healthcare is meant to assist the growing population of older adults from culturally diverse backgrounds who are enrolling in long-term care services. Many long-term care facilities and hospitals lack inclusive cuisine for different cultural, ethnic and religious identities. 

When food isn’t personalized to these needs and preferences, these older adults face risks of undernourishment, unintentional weight loss, or overburdened family caregivers, investigators say. 

Interviews with institutional leaders at ClarkLindsey and other community organizations suggested that a “point of care” resource to improve culturally tailored nutrition assessments was sorely needed. 

The first phase of the platform, a click-through prototype electronic-dietary assessment, is almost ready for testing, Raj said. 

“We will then continue working with our collaborators at NCSA to refine the tool to be culturally tailored,” she said. 

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