The Laboratory of Community Health and Nutrition Research engages in collaborative research with community partners. The laboratory’s focus is to actively engage and empower communities to identify health-related issues impacting their community and to increase community capacity to address those issues in meaningful and sustainable ways. Because diabetes, obesity and other nutrition-related diseases disproportionately burden south Texas, our laboratory focuses primarily on these health issues and macro-level nutrition initiatives that can aid in prevention of disease. Our research aims to (1) examine structural, cultural, and psychosocial contributors to the onset of diabetes and obesity among minority populations; (2) investigate cultural factors influencing Mexican American’s perceptions of nutrition and health programs; (3) assess environmental correlates of physical activity and dietary behaviors among underserved communities; and (4) improve measurement of dietary behaviors, data analysis and psychometrics used in Health Promotion research.

Bexar County Nutrition, Fitness, Health and Education Performance Research and Best-Practices Partnership

Bexar County Nutrition, Fitness, Health and Education Performance Research and Best-Practices is a partnership between the San Antonio Sports Foundation, school districts throughout Bexar County, non-profits, the University of Texas Health Science Center of San Antonio & the University of Texas at San Antonio. We are currently pilot testing an integrated school health approach and assessing the impacts of these modifications on elementary school students' health and academic outcomes. We expect the integrated approach will result in increased moderate to vigorous physical activity throughout the school day. We also expect to see increased fruit, vegetable and water intake among the students; increased family involvement in health promotion; and an increased number of students exhibiting a healthy body mass index.

Early Childhood Positive Deviance Study

The Early Childhood Positive Deviance study is a mixed-methods research study in Head Start centers in Bexar County. The purposes of this study are to (1) identify positive deviants for childhood obesity prevention among underserved and disadvantaged communities; (2) elucidate positive deviants psychological and behavioral characteristics; and (3) develop an innovative, feasible and sustainable intervention for families living in high-risk communities. The outcomes of this study will be used to develop a comprehensive home-based intervention for low-income minority families in underserved communities.

Sodium Reduction Initiative Study

The Sodium Reduction Initiative is a collaborative effort among the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District and local institutions. The initiative's goal is to reduce the sodium content in foods and meals served and increase the availability of lower sodium foods and meals. The initiative is implemented at worksite cafeterias, at congregate sites for senior adults, summer feeding programs, and throughout the PreK 4 SA program. The Laboratory is conducting a research study to examine the effectiveness of the sodium reduction initiative on food items purchased, sodium practices and policies, and on customer access to lower sodium products.

Supplemental Protein Intervention (SPRI)

Sarcopenia, defined as a progressive, age-related decline in muscle mass and strength, increases the risk of disabilities, falls, and loss of independence. Considering the growing older adult population and current prevalence of sarcopenia of 10-25%, strategies for slowing the progression of sarcopenia are imperative to improve the health and well being of our aging population. Adequate protein intake is critical for maintenance of muscle mass and function in older adults; therefore, it is of great concern that food insecure older adults with limited access to nutritious meals are at an even greater risk of sarcopenia. In collaboration with Krystle Zuniga at Texas State University-San Marcos, we aim to evaluate the impact of egg white protein supplementation on muscle mass, strength, and physical function in food insecure older adults with sarcopenia.

Dietary Supplementation in Community-Dwelling Older Adults and Medication/Supplementation Interactions

Older adults aged 65 years and older are the largest demographic of dietary supplement users in the United States. Many Americans are unaware of how supplements are regulated and how to make educated dietary supplement purchases. Older adults also take a large number of prescription and non-prescription medications, a condition termed poly-pharmacy. Medication taken in conjunction with dietary supplements has the potential to result in medication-supplement interactions that can decrease or increase the potency of certain medications. The goal of this project is to educate active community-dwelling older adults in Bexar County on dietary supplement regulation and how to make educated purchases, as well as identify medication-supplement interactions.

Malnutrition in Home-bound Older Adults

The project aims to measure the malnutrition status of the home-bound elderly prior to admittance on the Meals on Wheels of San Antonio (MOWSA) program using the Mini Nutrition Assessment (MNA) tool. The MNA is a validated assessment tool used with the older adult population that correlates with biomarkers of malnutrition. After 3 months of participation on the MOWSA program, the malnutrition status, dietary intake, and nutrition status will be measured and compared to baseline data to assess the impact of the MOWSA program on alleviating malnutrition.

¡Mi­ranos! Look at Us, We are Healthy! (in partnership with the Mobile Health Laboratory)

¡Mi­ranos! Look at Us, We are Healthy! is a prevention program for early childhood obesity in low-income Latino communities. The goal of this study is to provide home-based education to parents regarding obesity prevention for their children. The study is led by parent mentors who provide skills training on obesity, physical activity, nutrition guidelines, and strategies for promoting health eating and physical activity at home.

We value the mutual benefits afforded in mentorship of UTSA undergraduate and graduate students. We encourage students with an interest in our research to contact us for volunteer or assistantship opportunities. Opportunities include, but are not limited to, being actively involved in data collection, manuscript development and grant writing. Masters students who wish to pursue a thesis are especially encouraged to apply.

Lab Co-Director

Erica Sosa, Ph.D. MCHES
Associate Professor
Department of Public Health
University of Texas at San Antonio

Lab Co-Director

Sarah Ullevig, Ph.D., RDN, LD
Associate Professor
Department of Dietetics and Nutrition
University of Texas at San Antonio
MB 3.444

  • Dolash, K*, He, M, Yin, Z. & Sosa, E.T. (2015) Factors that influence park use and physical activity in predominantly Hispanic and low-income neighborhoods. Journal of Physical Activity and Health.
  • Sosa, E.T. McKeyer, ELJ, Pruitt, B, Goodson, P., Castillo, L.G. (2015). The complexities of childhood obesity: A qualitative study among Mexican American mothers. Journal of Health Disparities Research and Practice.
  • He, M., Sosa, E.T., Cordova, A., Wilmoth, S., Bustos, D., Perez, A, Yin, Z. (2014) Effects of Healthy Eating Promotion on Food Preference of Head Start Preschoolers. Journal of Research in Obesity.
  • Sosa, E.T. Biediger-Friedman, L., Shields, K., Spitsen, E, & Pape, K. (2014). Increasing Healthy Choices in the Workplace using ¡Por Vida. Health Behavior & Policy Review.1(3):238-246.
  • Sosa, E.T., McKyer, ELJ, Goodson, P., & Castillo, L.G. (2014) Mexican American mothers perceptions regarding the Childhood Obesity Prevention. Journal of Research in Obesity. DOI:10.5171/2014.845124
  • Biediger-Friedman, L., Sosa, E.T., Shields, K., & Shutt, A. (2014). A voluntary approach to improve menu options in restaurants through a local collaborative partnership. Texas Public Health Association Journal, 66(1), 11-13.
  • Sosa, E.T., Biediger-Friedman, L., & Yin, Z. (2013) Lessons learned from training of promotores de salud for obesity and diabetes prevention. Journal of Health Disparities Research and Practice, 6(1), 1-13.
  • Sosa, E.T., Biediger-Friedman, L. & Banda, M.(2012) Associations between a voluntary menu designation initiative on patron food purchasing behaviors. Health Promotion Practice, published online DOI: 10.1177/1524839912469535
  • Yin, Z, Parra-Medina, D, Cordova, A, He, M, Gallion, K, Trummer, V, Sosa, E.T., Wu, X., & Ramirez, A (2012) Miranos! Look at Us, We are Healthy! An Environmental Approach to Early Childhood Obesity Prevention. Childhood Obesity,8(5), 429-439.
  • Sosa, E.T. (2012) Mexican American mothers’ perceptions regarding childhood obesity.: A theory-guided systematic literature review. Health Education and Behavior, 39, 396-404.
Manuscripts Submitted or In Preparation:
  • Ullevig SL, Spitsen E, Sheilds K, Sosa ET. Combined Efforts of Local Government Health Department and Companies to Reduce Sodium Availability in the Food Environment. Under Review – Texas Journal of Public Health.
  • Uc E, Ullevig SL. Impact of Meals on Wheels Participation on Malnutrition and Food Insecurity in the Homebound Elderly. In Preparation.
  • De leon T, He M, Ullevig SL. Dietary Supplement and Medication Interactions and the Impact of Education in the Older Adult Population at Congregate Sites. In Preparation.