Ann Irvin Armstrong, a master’s student in food and nutrition services from Jackson, recently took home the gold for the master’s level category in the Three-Minute Thesis competition at the University of Mississippi.
This annual competition asks graduate students to present a compelling, pre-recorded explanation of their research thesis topic and its significance in just three minutes. They are allowed to use only one PowerPoint slide.
Armstrong’s research stems from a Critical Thinking Redesign grant received by her lead professor, Nadeeja Wijayatunga, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management and the director of the Nutrition and Obesity Research, or NORA, lab. The project involves the effects of ageism on health care delivery and quality.
“I hope our research brings awareness to the discrimination that the older adult community faces, not just in the health care system, but in all aspects of daily life,” Armstrong said. “I hope people are more aware of what ageism is and how detrimental it can be on older adult’s health and well-being.
“I hope that our research reduces ageism and the harmful effects it has on the older adult population. Caring for all members of the community means providing the best care to the older adults in our community, so I hope our research inspires change in the way that older adults are most often treated in our society.”
Wijayatunga got the grant through the UM Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning’s Quality Enhancement Program to improve one of the lessons in a course she teaches to enhance critical thinking.
“My main research area is studying biobehavioral aspects of obesity and unhealthy lean,” Wijayatunga said. “Another area is studying weight stigma in health care.
“Ageism is a new research area for me, so in adding it to weight bias research, I think I can say that I am expanding my research studying different biases and educational interventions to reduce biases in health care.”
The research team’s aim was to reduce ageism in students who will one day be nutrition professionals or work in health care. Wijayatunga designed the intervention to focus on identifying implicit and explicit bias against the aging population.
This is a collaborative study with Teresa Carithers, interim chair of the Department of Applied Gerontology and a professor of nutrition and hospitality management, and Joseph Wellman, assistant professor of social psychology. Wijayatunga commends Armstrong’s dedication and work in conducting the study and further acknowledges her Ph.D. student in the NORA lab, Michael Hays, who also helped with executing the study.
Armstrong highlighted the research at the recent 3MT competition, where she presented “Effectiveness of an educational intervention to reduce ageism in undergraduate students in an entry-level nutrition class.” She addressed the research question, “Does an online educational intervention addressing ageism reduce ageism among undergraduate nutrition students?”
The researchers have already administered the pre-survey, a 20-minute online educational intervention, an immediate post-survey and a two-week post survey, and they expect ageism will go down in the intervention group.
“Ageism is highly prevalent in both general population and in health care workers,” Wijayatunga said. “Furthermore, ageism has increased during the pandemic. All health care workers should have cultural competence and knowledge about working with older adults.”
Educating future health care workers about ageism should help because most people may be unaware of it, Wijayatunga said, noting that she had heard about the problem before starting this study. Wijayatunga worked as a physician in Sri Lanka before moving to academia, and she hopes this research and classroom efforts will make a difference in lives of older adults.
“I taught the same educational content in my NHM 311 class separate from the research study,” Wijayatunga said. “I was very happy to see that a lot of students in my class acknowledged that this was the first time they heard of ageism and how learning about it changed their views, and that they will try not to be biased.
“Some even said that they would stand up against it if it happens in their workplace. This achieved the goal of the QEP grant because reducing biases is important for student learning. So, I am looking forward to analyzing the results from the study.”
The study is of great relevance as the nation’s aging population will outnumber their younger counterparts in the year 2026. This means by 2030, 1 in 5 Americans is projected to be 65 and older.
“For me, winning this competition means that I can do anything that I am determined to do,” Armstrong said. “It means that I really can accomplish great things, even if they seem out of reach.
“It means that all of the hard work that Dr. Wijayatunga and I have put into this research study has been recognized. I am so honored that my presentation was chosen as one of the winners and that the audience was interested in learning about the research that we’ve been doing.”
By Sarah Sapp