James Snow, interim academic director for integrative health sciences, was one of 10 researchers who developed the “WellSense Profile” – a 45-item questionnaire that measured participants’ wellness response to food across five dimensions – emotional, intellectual, physical, social and spiritual.
For participants who took the questionnaire online, they were asked about their wellness response to peppermint and lavender. For participants who took the questionnaire in-person, they consumed different recipes of meatloaf and vegetables and then asked about their wellness responses to each recipe. The study will be published in an upcoming issue of Food Quality and Preference. Read the abstract here.
We recently interviewed Mr. Snow about the research study’s design and significance:
Maryland University of Integrative Health: Can you walk readers through what the overall aim and purpose of this study is, as well as its “big picture” importance?
James Snow: The aim of the study was to develop a tool to measure consumer wellness associated with foods. It was for the purposes of testing consumer preferences and their relationship to food as well product development.
I’ve worked with McCormick [Note: McCormick and Company funded this study] before doing some literature reviews on the concepts of wellness associated with spices and herbs. McCormick’s initial impulse for this study was to research the subjective responses to food and not so much the relationship between objective health markers, like cholesterol, and particular foods.
MUIH: Can you briefly explain the five dimensions of wellness?
JS: When you do this kind of research, you have to know what it is that you’re trying to measure. So we had to come up with a solid, conceptual framework for wellness. We looked at a lot of existing research on the topic and found that despite a fair amount of conceptual heterogeneity there were certain dimensions to wellness that kept showing up. From that, we established five dimensions of wellness – social, spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical.
MUIH: How much research has been done on this before? And what makes your research unique?
JS: There is very little research out there that has explored the relationship between wellness and consumers’ experiences of food. Some of my research colleagues had previously developed a tool for measuring emotional associations with foods.
MUIH: What were the results of this study and the overarching significance of them?
JS: The goal of this study was to develop a tool that had certain qualities needed for measuring wellness. The questionnaire needs to have “content validity” – meaning that the questionnaire actually measures wellness and not something else! The tool also needs sufficient sensitivity to measure changes in wellness. It is of no use if it can’t detect change. We also had to ensure that the questionnaire was reliable and able to deliver consistent results. We tested the questionnaire using products such as lavender and peppermint, where we had a good idea of the expected response among consumers. The fact that we got the responses we expected provided early support for the tool. Ultimately, the significance of this result is we have a promising early version of a tool that can provide insight into associations between foods and consumers’ sense of wellness.
MUIH: One of the study highlights says that the study’s questionnaire has potential for “commercial applications.” How might you see the food industry using the questionnaire or something similar to assess consumers’ association between wellness and food?
JS:I think food companies might find this kind of questionnaire useful because it allows them to test certain foods with consumers. If the results show that eating those foods make people feel an increased sense of wellness, then it could increase the likelihood that consumers will want to buy those foods again. More broadly, this kind of research helps us understand what drives consumers to eat what they eat. Expected or perceived wellness responses interplay with other factors such as cost, availability, nutritional information, and health claims to ultimately drive decisions.
MUIH: What are some of your other research interests?
JS: Right now I’m really interested in research about the concept of healing presence. In particular, how the concept of healing presence is understood within the MUIH community and how it is understood in the broader external world. I’m also interested in developing a tool to measure healing presence in the clinical setting and then researching the relationship between healing presence and patient-centered outcomes.
MUIH: What kinds of research do you envision MUIH conducting at some point to further the integrative health arena?
JS: I see us doing a lot of research on the healing presence topic, and coming to be known as the experts on this topic both nationally and internationally.