UTK Former Trainee Spotlight: Megan Rodgers

IMG_2898Megan Rodgers, an alumnus of the Maternal and Child Health Leadership traineeship, is a registered and licensed dietitian at the Knox County Health Department. At the University of Tennessee, Megan obtained a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition, a Master of Science in Public Health Nutrition and completed the dietetic internship. Megan’s work at the health department focuses on planning, implementing and evaluating an afterschool program that teaches children about the importance of healthy eating and physical activity. She also strives to improve the afterschool environment through policy, systems and environmental changes that positively impact all students who attend afterschool care at these sites. Megan’s work directly engages the MCH population, which she grew to love through her time as a trainee. She is an active member of the Knoxville Area Afterschool Network and is on the Board of Directors for the Knoxville Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Leveraging a Community-Academic Partnership to Address Childhood Obesity: A poster presentation at the Tennessee Public Health Association annual meeting in Franklin, TN

At the Tennessee Public Health Association annual meeting in September 2018, I presented data from a recent plate waste study completed at three afterschool sites in the Knoxville area. Results from this study showed very high plate waste at all sites for all dinner meal components. This is of concern for many reasons, but especially because these afterschool centers serve many low-income, food insecure children.

During this study, collaboration between the Knox County Health Department and the University of Tennessee’s Departments of Nutrition and Public Health created an opportunity for graduate level students to gain hands-on experience and to apply academic training to a community setting. The value of the community-academic partnership enabled successful data collection and project execution.

On two separate occasions, a stratified random sample of dinner meals were collected at three afterschool sites. Standard dinner meals were obtained from the community kitchen that provides meals to the afterschool sites. These standard meals were used to calculate an average amount of each meal component and served as a comparison reference for participant meals collected. The amount of food wasted was astonishingly high and indicates a need for an evidence-based intervention to increase acceptability and consumption of the dinner meal at these afterschool sites. The community-academic partners will seek additional funding to plan, implement and evaluate an intervention that seeks to accomplish this goal. Collaborative partnerships are essential to addressing public health issues such as food insecurity and childhood obesity while training the future of the public health workforce.

As a registered dietitian, I am passionate about improving the health and well-being of children. The afterschool time serves as a prime platform for providing children with healthy, nutritious foods. Many of these children may not have access to healthy foods outside of the afterschool program’s doors, so we need to take this opportunity and make the most of it. Of course, we want our children to be well fed and to be successful inside and outside of the classroom. Adequate nutrition can play a key role in that.

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