Monday, December 1, 2008

Group 1 (Food as a Public Health Issue) & Group 2 (Health in New Jersey) (4th post)

As we move into the 4th week of this blog, members of Groups 1 and 2 are beginning to get busier and busier with their project. Students are using a wide array of resources for their research. Some looked up books from the university library to gather information, while others rely on the wide variety of resources that the internet offers, such as online databases of political and historical journals articles, electronic archives of newspapers and magazines, and websites and blogs of food and health-related organizations (e.g. United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization, and World Health Organization). Online databases such as the Princeton Data and Statistical Services are of particular interest to Group 2, since they need to perform some statistical analysis of the health status in New Jersey.

While they are all working hard, the progress of the project varies from members to members. Some find their work very smooth. “I have found one journal that proves quite useful - the “FoodReview” journal published by the Food and Rural Economics Division of the US Department of Agriculture. Haven't faced any difficulties so far, but it's still early in the game.” said Carine Davila, who works on History of food availability in the US. Similarly, Carol Shih, who is working on the history of the USDA food pyramid and food safety, happily reports that “So far, it has been smooth sailing.”

Other members are less fortunate and have to overcome different kinds of obstacles in their research. One common problem that members from Group 1 are facing is the overwhelming amount of data. Sarimer Sanchez for example, who investigates international hunger programs, finds it difficult to find an appropriate way to draw comparisons between the many different types of hunger programs within a country and between different countries. Similarly, Lauren Bartholomew, who works on the history and contemporary politics of school lunch programs, finds it tricky to narrow down articles that pertain to her specific area of interest.

Members from Group 2 on the other hand face a different kind of challenge – learning to use statistical analysis in their research. “I have no background whatsoever in statistical analysis and definitely underestimated the amount of work that will go into this project,” said Alexandra Douwes, who works on childhood vaccination, childhood asthma, and childhood injuries. “The main difficulty that many people in our group face is analyzing the rough data and converting the data into readable charts and graphs. This requires prior knowledge and special programs [of statistics], such as STATA, and is therefore very time consuming. Luckily our preceptor has been very helpful and is always willing to sit down with me and help me make sense of all the data I acquired.”

Another challenge that Group 2 faces is the collection of appropriate data, and organization of the large amount of information. “I find it really difficult to find information beyond the state level (e.g. for counties in the state), or even beyond the national level,” said Yuna Sakuma, who works on unintentional injuries. “I think the difficulty I'm going to come across next is organizing the
data, since unintentional injuries covers a lot.” Another student Rosalynd Upton has similar opinions, “My topic is very specific (gestational diabetes and infant mortality), so I found it difficult to gather data that dealt specifically with what I was looking for. As for the rest of my project, I expect to find it a bit hard to use all the data I have found and write a paper about it. I do not want my paper to just be a bunch of quotes, but I also don't want it to not have enough statistical info to back up my argument.”

Despite these challenges, members from both groups seem to enjoy the process of their research.

“I think it would be interesting to include an anthropological or sociological perspective about the meaning of food, the importance of food choice, and the cultural aspects of eating,” – Aba Osseo-Asare

“ Even though it has proven to be a lot of work, I think that the skills I will acquire in the process will be very useful in the future.” – Alexandra Douwes

Best of luck to both groups for the rest of their work!