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December 5, 2013

'Boot Camp' Research Aims to Improve Health Habits

topstory4-lgGabrielle D'Lima
By Jim Raper

Students at Old Dominion who have resolved to get into better physical shape in 2014 might want to contact Gabrielle D'Lima, an award-winning doctoral student in applied experimental psychology at ODU who has innovative ideas about how to prompt people to make better decisions involving their health.

D'Lima won a grant from the American Psychological Foundation (APF) and the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology (COGDOP) this fall to fund her research. Now she needs to recruit some ODU students to help her conduct a study that she has dubbed the "ODU Healthy Boot Camp."

The national grant "is a big deal," said Michelle Kelley, ODU professor of psychology and adviser to D'Lima. The $1,000 award is from a joint APF/COGDOP program that assists graduate students of psychology with research costs associated with the master's thesis or doctoral dissertation. These awards are widely sought after.

D'Lima's dissertation is titled "Towards Effective Multiple Health Behavior Change: The Keystone Model," and the research behind it explores health behavior change targeting nutrition, physical activity and alcohol consumption by intervening in the areas of self-regulation, impulsivity and self-efficacy.

The doctoral student hopes the intervention can translate into an inexpensive online tool to promote better health decision making, and is especially interested in developing a tool that can help people who have few, if any, psychological support services, because they live in underserved remote locations or lack financial resources.

After the research project is approved by the ODU Institutional Review Board, D'Lima will be looking for students who are slackers when it comes to exercising, healthy eating and practicing safe alcohol consumption.

"For those who are eligible, students may participate by completing a baseline survey, training in a psychology-based strategy for behavior change, and completing a one-month follow-up survey," D'Lima said. "Some students will be randomly selected to additionally participate in a daily diary survey for a 30-day window around their completion of the training. Participants may potentially boost their success with personal health goals if they use these strategies."

The grant D'Lima received will allow her to award small incentives (for example, $25-$50 cash prize raffles; Nexus 7 Tablet raffle) to participants who complete different portions of the study. She can be contacted at gdlim001@odu.edu.

D'Lima's overall graduate work has focused on risky behaviors affecting health. She instructs undergraduate health psychology classes and works with Sentara Healthcare in predictive modeling and advanced statistical analysis.

Erin Carney, program coordinator for the APF, cited D'Lima's "innovative" research when she announced the award.