Food Innovation Center

Collaborating for a healthier, hunger-free world.

Miller helps those with diabetes make behavioral change

Carla MillerWhy do people choose highly processed cereals at the grocery store instead of regular oatmeal?  It may seem to you that both are common breakfast foods, but according to Carla Miller, they differ greatly in how they affect your blood glucose.

Carla Miller, an Associate Professor of Human Nutrition, and a member of the Food Innovation Center, evaluates how and why people make behavioral changes and how behavior affects nutritional choices, especially in people with diabetes. 

Miller started her career at The Ohio State University in 2007, researching behavioral changes.  Prior to OSU, she counseled many diabetic patients as a dietitian in cardiology units at medical centers.  She went on to receive her Ph.D. in nutrition at The Pennsylvania State University where she began to study the process of change:   “I was intrigued why I was repeatedly counseling patients with diabetes and heart disease, and I wanted to help them through the process of changing their lifestyle.” 

Miller has created lifestyle intervention programs for adults with diabetes.  In these programs, she educates participants regarding the relationship between diet and blood glucose response, how to interpret the glucose results, and strategies for improving blood glucose levels.

“We are working to initiate and maintain a behavior.  We evaluate the outcome of the intervention programs by examining what worked for which subgroup of participants and if people with certain characteristics respond in the same fashion,” said Miller.  “We try to learn what promoted behavioral change, what strategy worked within the group, and how we should implement that change in future programs.”

In a previous study, Miller evaluated a nutrition intervention about the glycemic index to identify whether the adoption of a lower glycemic index diet improved blood glucose and insulin levels in people with type 2 diabetes.  Prior research found rapid increases followed by sharp decreases in glucose were detrimental to the long-term health of individuals. 

 Miller found that greater consumption of fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy foods, and whole grains were the primary foods related to lower glucose levels for those with diabetes. 

For instance, the highly processed breakfast cereals mentioned earlier can cause a rapid increase in consumers’ glucose levels due to the breakdown of grains through processing.  On the other hand, oatmeal (not the quick cooking variety) can be substituted so that glucose levels rise and fall at a slower rate, providing a healthier alternative.

By helping people understand which foods are better for them, she hopes to encourage lifestyle changes in diabetic patients: “I am most proud of the difference we make in individual lives,” Miller said.  “It is truly touching to see our participants return with a positive outlook on their health and making changes to better their future.”

Miller’s latest research project implements an approach called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) which incorporates meditation as a means of increasing attention and awareness of hunger and satiety. The goal is to decrease mindless eating and consciously regulate food intake as a response to the body’s signals. Though Miller does not yet have results from her National Institutes of Health-supported work, it is her hypothesis that MBSR will be more effective than traditional educational approaches that simply inform consumers about which foods to eat.

Recently, Miller has collaborated with Joyce McDowell, Carolyn Gunther, and other members of the Food Innovation Center on a successfully funded seed grant.  Their program, Simple Suppers, is designed to improve food choices and eating behaviors in parents, who will then teach good eating habits to their children, reducing risk for childhood obesity. Miller will assist with curriculum development, implementation, process evaluations, data interpretations, and publications of the project.

Miller has been involved in the Food Innovation Center since its inception and is enthused at the success that can be brought about by working with collaborators from diverse disciplines:  “I am eager to witness Food Innovation Center members creating new products because I am thrilled to be able to evaluate the health effects of these new products and implement them in our programs.  These products can be used to help people make positive lifestyle behavior changes and should be available to consumers.”

Story written by Kayla Stucke
Posted 7/6/2011