The Department of Agriculture is spending nearly $150,000 to teach overweight college students in Puerto Rico how to use yoga, "mindfulness," and meditation to lose weight.
The agency provided funding to Florida International University, which began a three- year study in June to try to prevent overweight students from becoming obese in the U.S. territory.
"Latinos generally have a high prevalence of overweight [sic] and obesity, and rates in Puerto Rico are above those in the continental U.S.," according to the grant for the project. "Young adulthood is a risky period for transitioning from overweight to obese, and many college students gain a significant amount of weight, especially in their first year or two."
The grant argues the project is necessary because "peer social support" interventions for obesity have yet to be tested in Puerto Rico.
"Obesity has been linked to high levels of stress, and research suggests that some alternative approaches to stress management such as guided imagery, yoga, and meditation can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and weight gain," the grant said. "Recently the popularity of such ‘mindfulness’ practices has grown in Puerto Rico."
The study will enlist 40 overweight college students in Ponce, a city in southern Puerto Rico. The students will attend a support group taught by a nutritionist and a yoga instructor that will promote healthy eating and exercise for 10 weeks.
"A nutritionist trained in motivation and personal empowerment coaching will co-lead the sessions, providing information and practical exercises (which will also help spark group discussions) for improving diet quality and physical activity," the grant said.
The sessions will include "mindful eating," and "guided imagery." The group will also have a Facebook page to "keep subjects engaged."
The federal government is investing heavily into mindfulness activities across multiple agencies.
The National Institutes of Health has spent at least $100 million on research on the new age meditation technique, and the Department of Education recently spent $2.5 million on mindfulness program for kindergarteners that involves yoga, "brain breaks," and "calm spots."
The Department of Agriculture study is scheduled to continue until February 2017 and has cost taxpayers $149,889 so far.