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Research Methods in Human Nutrition
FNH 398
Instructor: Dr. Jennifer Black
Office: FNH 242
Office Hours: Tu/Th 9:30-10:30am

(or by appointment)

Class Schedule: Tu/Th 8:00-9:20am
Classroom: DMP 310
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

Course Background

"The science of nutrition is the human endeavour to understand how what we eat affects out health. What kinds of diets are best to prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes? To what extent can good nutrition reduce stress, prevent memory loss, or even prolong longevity? What diets are best for infants, toddlers, and children to develop their optimal physical powers and mental faculties? Fuelled by overwhelming evidence that a significant reduction in the global burden of disease must be nutrition based, new discoveries are being generated at an explosive rate and are producing major shifts in understanding. Thrown into this mix is a daily barrage of miraculous health claims and counterclaims presented by the media and those with vested interests. In this environment, not only is it important for nutrition graduates to have a mastery of knowledge about nutrition, but more importantly, to have skills and ability to learn new knowledge, to see things from different perspectives, to critically evaluate information, to judge what is useful and what is not, and to be able to communicate and apply this knowledge. Without these skills of critical evaluation, one's knowledge will become dated very quickly." (adapted with permission from CM Skeaff, Professor, University of Otago, New Zealand).

Course Aims

The purpose of this course is to introduce the student to research principles and processes that will allow them to interpret, critically evaluate, and apply research in the nutritional sciences.


One of FNH 250 of FNH 255, and either (a) LFS 252 or (b) BIOL 300 or (c) EPSE 482 or (d) FRST 231 or (e) STAT 200.

Required Materials

Required Text:

  • Leslie Portney and Mary Watkins. Foundations of Clinical Research; Applications to Practice, 3rd Edition. 2009. Pearson Prentice Hall.
  • Readings listed on syllabus (and additional readings may by posted on Vista)

Clicker Requirement: All students in FNH 398 are required to have access to an iClicker what is registered to their name and student ID. Please click on the "Register your clicker here" link on the Vista website to register your clicker.

Course Objectives

By the end of FNH 398, students are expected to be able to:

  1. Describe the importance of research and how research informs professional practice;
  2. Critically read and interpret the nutrition research literature and evaluate the quality of research studies;
  3. Explain the characteristics of the different research paradigms used in nutrition research including qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods. For each paradigm, identify strengths, limitations, and indications for use;
  4. Describe the various stages of the nutrition research process and what tasks need to be completed during each (conceptualization, reviewing the literature, planning and design, methodology, data analysis, interpretation, dissemination, re-conceptualizing);
  5. Describe the principles underlying ethics in research including "informed consent";
  6. Explain the key types of validity and reliability, how they are assessed and their importance for research;
  7. Interpret basic statistical models used in nutrition research and explain core concepts needed for applying descriptive and inferential statistics to quantitative data;
  8. Describe the uses, strengths, and limitations of the following research approaches: qualitative studies, cross-sectional studies, case-control studies, cohort studies, and randomized control trials;
  9. Critically read current nutrition literature (and know where to find it).

Course Evaluation

Activity Percent of Grade
Assignment #1: TCPS 2 Ethics Tutorial 2%
Assignment #2: Searching the Literature 10%
Assignment #3: Quality Criteria Checklist Assignment 10%
Online Quizzes (3 at 5% each) 15%
Graded In-class Clicker Quiz Questions 5%
Class (Clicker) Participation 3%
Midterm Exam 25%
Final Exam 30%

Student Expectations

Absentee Policy: We expect you to be present and prepared for all class meetings. In the event that you are unable to attend a scheduled class meeting because of illness or emergency, you are responsible for any material presented in class.

  • UBC's policy regarding illness and accommodations is available at:
  • You are expected to contact the instructor and submit a medical note/certificate of illness or appropriate documentation for any absence that requires accommodation.

Assignments and Readings:

  • All assigned reading is to be done prior to class meetings in order to be prepared for class discussions. In-class clicker questions will on occasion be used to assess comprehension and critical analysis from assigned readings.
  • All assignments must be handed in on time. Assignments should be handed in both on Vista and with a hard copy submitted in class. The Vista log will confirm that the assignment was submitted on time.
  • Any assignment turned in after the due date will be graded late and points will automatically be deducted. A 10% penalty will be given per day late.
  • All assignments should be given page numbers, and be stapled, together with your student ID at the top of each page.

Online Quizzes:

  • These must be complete on the dates scheduled. If not, a score of zero is assigned. We recommend that you note these dates now and don't forget them!

Email: You may notice that the instructor's email address was not listed on the first page of the syllabus. Basically, this is because we've found that face-to-face communication is much more effective. There are several reasons why this is the case:

  1. When someone asks a question by email, it's very difficult to clarify the question, and provide the appropriate answer (or even better, to help you discover it yourself).
  2. Even if the question is clear, it takes a lot of time to type our a complete answer - and it means that we can't assess whether you've understood the content or not (or try to help you answer the question for yourself). And it also means that other forms of communication (such as a diagram) aren't possible.
  3. There are over 150 people in this course. If you have a questions, chances are very good that someone else will have the same question, and will also benefit from an explanation.
  4. Sometimes students think it's quicker and easier to fire off an email rather than trying to locate the information themselves (e.g., when is the midterm?). (We're sure that none of you have ever done this, but some "other students" do!).

However, in the case of an emergency (such as illness or prolonged absence from class), or to make an appointment outside of office hours, the instructor can be reached at 604-822-6869 or (NOT VIA VISTA EMAIL).

Academic Integrity

Please be aware that plagiarism or cheating of any kind will be cause for "no credit" on the assignment, and possible failure in the course.

Academic integrity is fundamental to the research process, so is highlighted here. UBC's policy on academic integrity is available here. When academic integrity is breached, most commonly by plagiarism or cheating, this constitutes academic misconduct.

Plagiarism is defined by the UBC Calendar as "intellectual theft (that) occurs when an individual submits or presents the oral or written work of another person as his or her own." (The University of British Columbia, Calendar 2008/09, p.59). Plagiarism is a growing concern at UBC, as indicated in the following statement from the website of UBC's Vice President Academic:

"Evidence from UBC and elsewhere suggests that plagiarism is increasing - complaints from students and professors about the problem are rising. The internet has made plagiarism easier. For example, there are many places from which to copy or purchase material, and simply cutting and pasting text from internet sources directly into papers is relatively easy.

Plagiarism is difficult to detect. In the past, there was no systematic way to compare student papers to the work of others to uncover plagiarism. It was only discovered when, generally by coincidence, text in a paper was recognized as coming from another source known to the reader.

Fortunately, the internet, which has made plagiarizing easier, also provides a system for possible detection. As one part of an institutional response to the issue of plagiarism, UBC has subscribed to an electronic service called TurnItIn. While the focus is primarily on this internet-based service, information is also provided about the larger context in which plagiarism must be addressed, including UBC Policies on Plagiarism and suggestions on Reducing Plagiarism."

If you have not already done so, you should familiarize yourself with UBC's policies, and the steps you can take to avoid plagiarism. The UBC Library has an excellent site on plagiarism, with links to some good online tutorials:

Although plagiarism of written work can now be detected through services such as TurnItIn, it is more difficult to detect situations when students use the work of others (including their fellow students) when completing online quizzes and assignments. Studying with others or discussing issues with them is completely legitimate and is encouraged; however, collaborating with others while completing online assignments is not, nor is informing others of what the questions were. Both providing this information to someone else, or using that information, are considered cheating and would constitute academic misconduct.

Accordingly, the first item on each online quiz or assignment in this course will contain the following statement: "I am completing this quiz/assignment independently and will not disclose its contents to other students". You must select "Yes" to continue.

Course Topics and Schedule

See course:FNH398/Schedule

Course Readings

  1. Akobeng, A.K. (2005). "Understanding systematic reviews and meta-analysis." Archives of disease in childhood 90(8): 845-848. from
  2. Autier, P. and S. Gandini (2007). "Vitamin D supplementation and total morbidity: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials." Archives of internal medicine 167(16): 1730-1737. from
  3. Baker, D.H. (2008). "Animal models in nutrition research." The Journal of nutrition 138(2): 391-396. from
  4. Bedford, J.L. and S.I. Barr (2005). "Diets and selected lifestyle practices of self-defined adult vegetarians from a population-based sample suggest they are more 'health conscious'." Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 2(1): 4. From
  5. Blumberg, J., R.P. Heaney, et al. (2010). "Evidence-based criteria in the nutritional context." Nutrition reviews 68(8): 478-484. From
  6. Bruemmer, B., J. Harris, et al. (2009). "Publishing Nutrition Research: A Review of Epidemiological Methods." Journal of the American Dietetic Association 109(10): 1728-1737. From 4X9F7CD-G/2/fb92d62917205cfba3d36655c8568ce0.
  7. Burrows, T.L., R.J. Martin, et al. (2010). "A systematic review of the validity of dietary assessment methods in children when compared with the method of doubly labeled water." Journal of the American Dietetic Association 110(10): 1501-1510. From
  8. Cho, E., W.Y. Chen, et al. (2006). "Red meat intake and risk of breast cancer among premenopausal women." Archives of internal medicine 166(20): 2253-2259. From
  9. Gray, G.E. and L.K. Gray. (2002). "Evidence-based medicine: applications in dietetic practice." Journal of the American Dietetic Association 102(9): 1263-1272; discussion 1272. From
  10. Guenther, P.M., J. Reedy, et al. (2008). "Evaluation of the Healthy Eating Index-2005." Journal of the American Dietetic Association 108(11): 1854-1864. From
  11. Harris, J.E., P.M. Gleason, et al. (2009). "An introduction to qualitative research for food and nutrition professionals." Journal of the American Dietetic Association 109(1): 80-90. From
  12. Kim, J., S.Y. Lim, et al. (2009). "Fatty fish and fish omega-3 fatty acid intakes decrease the breast cancer risk: a case-control study." BMC Cancer 9: 216. From
  13. McMahon, J.A., T.J. Green, et al. (2006). "A controlled trial of homocysteine lowering and cognitive performance." The New England Journal of Medicine 354(36): 2764-2772. From
  14. Moher, D. and A.C. Tricco (2008). "Issues related to the conduct of systematic reviews: a focus on the nutrition field." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 88(5): 1191-1199. From
  15. Nestle, M. (2001). "Food company sponsorship of nutrition research and professional activities: a conflict of interest?" Public Health Nutr 4(5): 1015-1022. From
  16. Porter, C. and J.L.S. Matel. (1998). "Are we Making Decisions Based on Evidence?" Journal of the American Dietetic Association 98(4): 404-407. From 2V/2/c4d5e7d4b761cc06a1e225fbd24adf36.
  17. Potischman, N. and D.L. Weed. (1999). "Causal criteria in nutritional epidemiology." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 69(6): 1309S-1314S. From

Assignment Summaries

Note: The full instructions for these assignments will be posted on Vista

Assignment #1: Completion of the Introductory Tutorial for the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS 2: CORE).

This tutorial can be accessed at: Be sure to log in after creating a username and password so that you can complete the tutorial over more than one session. When you have successfully completed the tutorial, print your certificate of completion and save an electronic version. Turn this in by JANUARY 19, 2011 (both a hard copy IN CLASS, and an electronic version via Vista). Those who submit their certificate by the deadline will receive 2% towards their course grade. Those who do not submit their certificate by the deadline will receive a score of zero.

Assignment #2: Searching for Scientific Literature

  1. Select a topic and develop a clear question using the PICO framework related to your selected topic.
  2. Conduct a "Medline" search to identify studies that have examined your research question. Please hand in a print out of your search history.
  3. Print and submit the abstracts for 3 research articles that you identified through your search and that are most relevant to your research question.
  4. Journal Alert: Attach the confirmation that you received from a peer-reviewed journal that shows that you have successfully signed up for a journal alert or electronic table of content.

Assignment #3: Critically Reviewing the Literature using the Quality Criteria Checklist

  1. For each of the primary research papers assigned to the second half of the course:
    • Abstract the paper as illustrated in the ADA Evidence Analysis Process provided by the American Dietetic Association Evidence: (An example of an abstracted article is posted here:
    • Fill out the Quality Criteria Checklist (a template will be provided on Vista).
    • You should read the article and fill out the checklist in advance of the class in which the research paper will be discussed. To facilitate discussion, you should bring your checklist to class with you. Questions may be asked in class (and will contribute to your in-class Clicker Quiz Grade).
  2. For the research paper on Experiments and Randomized Trials, you will need to submit the Quality Criteria Checklist in class and on Vista. This completed checklist will be graded.