UCF Sociologists Research Toward a Healthier Community


Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Central Florida Melanie Sberna Hinojosa, Ph.D., has been leading sociology students through trailblazing research. Two of her papers focusing on public health were recently published in academic journals.

The paper “Using Andersen’s Behavioral Model to Predict Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Participation among U.S. Adults,” was published on December 23, 2016 in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition.

In spring 2014 Sberna Hinojosa collaborated with UCF sociology doctoral students at the time, Sara Strickhouser, Ph.D., and Jenny Nguyen, Ph.D., to develop the paper as a part of Strickhouser’s directed research course. The paper won the sociology department’s Graduate Student Paper Award in 2014.

The paper utilized the public health services model, Andersen’s Behavioral Model, to predict use of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or what used to be called food stamps.

The team used the model to predict who would be more likely to use SNAP and developed an index to understand how different attributes can have an effect on who uses SNAP.

“We know that women, people with kids, unmarried people, and African Americans are more likely to use SNAP,” explained Sberna Hinojosa. “We tested whether there was higher rates of SNAP participation if you had more than one attribute. Unmarried, African American women with kids had much higher rates of SNAP participation compared to someone with one single attribute.”

An additional article, “Family Predictors of Child Mental Health Conditions,” was accepted for publication to the Journal of Family Issues in January, 2017.

Sberna Hinojosa collaborated with Nguyen on the paper as part of her directed research course in spring of 2015. Additional contributors included UCF students Strickhouser, Rameika Newman, Emily Strohacker and Boniface Noyongoyo.

The paper examined how family structure and income predicted the number of mental health conditions in children. Most of their research suggested that children of single mothers have highest counts of mental health conditions compared to other family types (two parent families, other families like single father or grandparent families).

The researchers wanted to see the number of mental health conditions of children of single mothers with higher incomes compared to two parent families with lower incomes.  They also were interested in whether this was different by race and ethnicity.

“Our findings highlighted the complex interactions between race, family structure and socioeconomic status,” Sberna Hinojosa said.

They found race/ethnicity to moderate the relationship between family resources and counts of mental health conditions within white and black families, but not multiracial or Hispanic families. Additionally, they found that resource rich families (two parent biological families with higher than average incomes) had incidences of mental conditions and resource poor families (families with incomes at, below, or just above federal poverty line, and single parent families) also had higher counts of mental health conditions.

“This finding is a significant contribution to our understanding of the relationship between race/ethnicity, family structure and socioeconomic status,” Sberna Hinojosa said.

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