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September 27, 2013
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab

SRU psychology faculty, students research diet, body image

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Three Slippery Rock University psychology professors have teamed with 10 SRU students on a research project that could ultimately pay dividends for those in the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities.

The yearlong project is being led by Catherine Massey, associate professor of psychology, along with Emily Keener, assistant professor of psychology, and Jennifer Sanftner, professor of psychology.

SRU psychology majors involved in the research are: Michelle Giaquinto from Canonsburg; Sam Griffiths from New Kensington; Sara Habraken from Bristolville, Ohio; Chelsea Kelligher from Cortland, Ohio; Ashlee Moeller from Beaver Falls; Michelle Mullins from Grove City; Jake Rogers from Williamsport; Melanie Seymour from Spring, Texas; Lesli Somerset from Farrell; and Ashley Snyder from South Park.

The professors interviewed and selected the student researchers. Seymour and Moeller were chosen as the student leaders of the group.

"We hope to involve up to 400 people, not only from campus, but from the greater regional community and other regions of the country," Massey said. "We have already had people from North Carolina and other parts of the U.S. participate in the survey."

"The main goal of the research project is to eventually develop a program to directly help the gay community improve health behaviors and how they view themselves," she said. "Of course, there is the added benefit that our students are learning good research methods and applying what they have learned in their psychology and other courses."

The 230-question survey asks about personality, relationships, identity, diversity and experiences among 18- to 40-year-olds in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual communities.

"The study examines such issues as body image, relationships and eating behaviors along with smoking and drinking behaviors," Massey said.

Her longtime research interests include adolescent and young adult health and psychosocial development. She has been involved in examining familial and cultural influences on substance use and mental health such as anxiety and depression with a strong focus on the LGBT community. Her research also includes tobacco control with adolescence and young adults, including developing, implementing and evaluating tobacco cessation programs.

The current project, which received approval from SRU's Institutional Review Board, started in May with an SRU Dean's Faculty-Student Grant from the College of Health, Environment and Science. The work will continue through next June and is expected to lead to professional conference presentations for students and faculty as well as published articles in scholarly journals.

"This is a pilot project," Massey said, "with an ultimate goal of seeking a grant from the National Institute of Health to develop a study targeted to the larger LGB community. We want to examine how health behaviors may be different in the LGB community and how that may co-vary with body image and relationship quality," she said.

"The research work took flight a few years ago when Dr. Sanftner and I did a very small project looking at some of these issues in the LGB community. We saw some issues in terms of body image and eating behaviors that we didn't see in the literature. We found that body image and health behaviors, like restricted eating, may appear in the lesbian population, and we hope our study will give us some information to help us tease out the complexities of body image, relationship quality and other health behaviors," Massey said.

"We want to examine how our research findings with the LGB community compares with the existing findings from the heterosexual community," she said.

While the current survey is open to those ages 18-40, Massey said it could be expanded in the future to examine data for those ages 40 and older.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.