ASU TRANSCEND Trainee Spotlight: Kenzie Millner

Version 2Kenzie is a first-year master student in Nutrition at the Arizona State University (ASU) College of Health Solutions. Kenzie received her undergraduate degree in Nutritional Sciences with a Dietetics Emphasis from the University of Arizona-Tucson. She began as an MCH Trainee in August 2018 through the ASU TRANSCEND Program. In this blog post she describes her thesis research and work with a family-focused intervention program in the Phoenix Metropolitan area.

Obesity is a major public health concern for adolescents in the United States. According to the CDC, 18.5% of youth in the United States were considered obese in 2015–2016 (NCHS Data Brief, 2017). Rates of adolescent obesity are even higher in many ethnic minority populations, including Hispanics and Non-Hispanic Blacks (NCHS Data Brief, 2017). Current programming for obesity prevention has been unsuccessful in reaching and preventing obesity in ethnic minority populations. In order to understand the complex factors leading to obesity in ethnic youth populations, we must determine links between physical health behaviors such as substance use, sleep, physical activity, and food choices and obesity, while also understanding the role of mental health in obesity prevention.

The Research and Education Advancing Children’s Health Institute at ASU is a multidisciplinary team that developed and implemented an interdisciplinary project called Family Check Up for Health. Family Check Up for Health is based on a previous evidenced-based model called Family Check Up, which focused on a “strengths-based, family-centered intervention” as a foundation to improve family management skills and address child and adolescent adjustment problems. Family Check Up has shown a variety of health benefits for children and adolescents, including lower rates of obesity among individuals receiving the intervention. The next step is to investigate how a similar intervention impacts health behaviors among an ethnically diverse population. Family Check Up for Health utilizes this foundational framework but also aims to address familial support of positive health behaviors to improve obesity among children and adolescents in the Phoenix Metropolitan area.

My thesis project will focus on data from the Family Check Up for Health intervention. The primary objective of my project is to determine whether there is an association between ethnicity and obesity in adolescents in the program. I will also determine the link between health behaviors in adolescents in the program, and their mental health markers including depression and perceived stress. Uncovering these relationships is the first step in developing evidenced-based interventions which will help bridge the gap of health disparities in ethnic minority populations, especially in obesity treatment and prevention. My work in Family Check Up for Health has been very rewarding thus far, as I really enjoy getting to see first-hand how an intervention can transform peoples’ lives. I hope to see this intervention continue to be adopted by healthcare practitioners around the country so that more lives can be improved.

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