UTK Trainee Spotlight: Alexandra Alford

Alexandra is a trainee at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Alexandra has been funded by the MCH Nutrition Leadership, Education and Training Program since August 2015, and is currently completing her dietetic internship.

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Each semester at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, we plan and lead leadership workshops for the first-year students in the Public Health Nutrition program. These workshops allow students gain additional leadership skills and collaborate with their classmates to form better relationships. Since I am now a third-year student, I had the opportunity to lead some of the sessions.

Initially, I was a little worried about whether or not I was prepared, and if students would take me seriously since I was one of their peers. However, after looking at the materials provided and remembering my own experiences I was able to relax about the situation a little more. I also realized that this was a valuable experience and I needed to appreciate and delve into this opportunity.

I’ve helped with leadership workshops that ranged in topics from personality testing to organizational leadership skills. All have allowed me to learn more about my peers, but also a little more about myself. I was able to come full circle, from participating in the activities to leading them, which allowed for self-reflection in addition to the leadership and training skills that were gained. Again, these leadership workshops are beneficial for growth in the new graduate students and myself. They have helped me gain a better understanding and appreciation of my role as an MCH Nutrition trainee!

-Alexandra Alford, MCH Nutrition Trainee, University of Tennessee

CSU (Western Partner) Trainee Spotlight: Cameron Herritt

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Cameron is an MCH Nutrition trainee at Colorado State University.  He is currently completing his Masters of Public Health in Physical Activity and Healthy Lifestyles with a focus on adolescent nutrition.  This post entails the research that he conducts on the National School Lunch Program and the associated food waste. 

Improving NSLP Programs Through Food Waste Data Collection and Food Systems Education

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is one of the most influential food delivery programs for adolescent and child health in the United States.  Providing food for approximately 30 million children every day around the country is no small feat.  To help support that program, the USDA, along with many other organizations, conduct research to improve program efficiency, child food acceptance, and nutritional standards.  The research I have had the privilege to work with throughout my master’s program involves the selection, consumption, and waste of foods provided in the school meal program.  Improving what goes on the plate is the first critical step to improving nutrition in schools; however, the next significant step is improving student consumption of those foods.

The goal of the research project I work with, Healthy Planet Healthy Youth, is to investigate, implement and evaluate strategies for food waste reduction and food recovery in Northern Colorado public schools while concomitantly improving student diet quality.  I have had the opportunity to interview kitchen managers, nutrition services directors and other team members with influence on the management of the NSLP at the local level.  We have conducted observations in schools to assess waste levels and to determine opportunities for improvement as well as sharing techniques and best practices that decrease food waste in schools.  We are also conducting a student educational intervention to see if food systems education will influence student diet quality and/or waste volume in middle schools lunchrooms. Lastly, we are also investigating the use of share tables as a means to reduce landfill disposal of food and address child food insecurity.

Working on this research project has provided me with many skills that I plan to use in my career, including creating opportunities for community collaboration in data collection and research.  We recognize that the populations we work with are the actual experts and that first-hand opinions and experiences with the problems are critical for making effective programs and enacting positive change.  I look forward to utilizing these skills and the knowledge gained in this research to improve programs for our most vulnerable populations, most specifically, of course, our MCH populations.

-Cameron Herritt, MCH Nutrition Trainee, Colorado State University

 

 

UC Berkeley Trainee Spotlight: Lilly Nhan

Lilly Nhan is a trainee at University of California, Berkeley. She is currently working on research examining the association between characteristics of community and school-level programs and policies and children’s dietary intake and weight status. In this blog post, she highlights her team’s research approach.Headshot_LNhan_2017 copy

With the rise in childhood obesity over the past several decades, numerous programs and interventions have been implemented with the goal of improving children’s diet and overall health. Efforts have spanned from the federal level, such as the USDA’s Healthier U.S. Schools Challenge, to community-based interventions, such as Shape Up Somerville. Furthermore, at the local level communities and school can also implement their own health and wellness related policies.

Thus, children across the US are living in communities with varying numbers and intensities of these programs and policies aimed at improving their health. Instead of focusing on a single intervention, this research seeks to understand across these varying types of interventions, what characteristics of programs and policies are associated with the most beneficial dietary and health outcomes in children. Examples of such characteristics include the amount or combinations of community programs and policies, their intensity, or duration.

This research will (a) characterize the breadth and scope of programs and policies aimed at tackling childhood obesity across multiple US communities, (b) identify the characteristics of these programs and policies that are associated with the best dietary and health outcomes, and (c) help inform best practices for the design and implementation of future childhood obesity interventions.

Working on this project has shown me the importance of research that acknowledges the dynamic interplay between an individual and their environment. People’s eating behaviors are shaped by their physical, social, and economic environments. Consequently, in order for interventions to be effective, they must recognize and meet the needs of their target population and their environment.

I have been inspired by this experience to continue working in childhood obesity research. Through this research, I hope to serve as an advocate for the equitable health and well-being of children across the U.S.

– Lilly Nhan, MCH Nutrition Trainee, University of California, Berkeley