UMN Trainee Spotlight: Junia N Brito

DSC_0513 - CopyJunia is a first-year PhD student in Social/Behavioral Epidemiology at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health (SPH). She is originally from Brazil, where she received her dietetic training and worked as both a clinical dietitian and as a dietitian food service manager. While living in the U.S., Junia has completed an MBA with a Healthcare Management concentration at Bellevue University and received an MPH Nutrition degree from the University of Minnesota. This post describes her experiences as a student and MCH Nutrition trainee.

Here in the U.S., some of my previous leadership-volunteer experience included being a Nutrition Educator Specialist for Urban Ventures focused in teaching ethnically diverse children from public schools about food and health. Additionally, I have engaged in a community & health development project as a Nutritionist Manager consultant for the Green Garden Bakery -a minority youth-led garden and bakery enterprise supported by the not for profit organization Urban Strategies Inc.

Since I joined the SPH, I have been engaged in multiple research projects and related activities. During the Summer of 2016, I completed the field experience requirement for the MPH Nutrition program at the Women, Infants & Children (WIC) Program’s Office at the Minnesota Department of Health. Using Minnesota’s WIC program data, I explored two main questions: First, what are the predominant reasons given by mothers enrolled in Minnesota WIC program for stopping breastfeeding during the first year of their child’s life, and second, do these reasons vary according to race, ethnicity or country of origin. These findings can be found at the Breastfeeding in Minnesota’s WIC Program FACT SHEET 2018 webpage. I have also been working as a research assistant in multiple research projects, with areas of study encompassing child nutrition & parenting behavior, dietary intake & sedentary behavior among sedentary office workers, and other health related outcomes.

As an MCH Nutrition Trainee, I have attended multiple professional development opportunities, updated and reviewed book chapters focused on overweight and obesity, sports nutrition, diabetes mellitus and eating disorders in children and adolescents, and engaged in quarterly trainee conferences and collaborative discussion calls with fellow MCH Nutrition trainees. It has been a fun and exciting journey!

 

UMN Trainee Spotlight: Yetunde Akingbemi and Noelle Yeo

This blog post describes the experiences of two MCH nutrition trainees, Noelle Yeo and Yetunde Akingbemi, while attending the Making Lifelong Connections meeting in Tampa, Florida this spring. Noelle and Yetunde are second year students in the coordinated MPH Nutrition program at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. They have both been MCH nutrition trainees since August 2017.

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Yetunde (left) and Noelle (right) in Tampa

Making Lifelong Connections is a meeting for all MCHB trainees to connect with current and former trainees, share and learn from each others’ work, and practice and learn leadership skills. All current and former trainees are selected to attend this meeting to demonstrate a form of leadership through giving an poster or oral presentation, hosting a roundtable discussion, introducing speakers, or other forms of leadership activities. Noelle and Yetunde – along with Marissa McElrone from UTK – originally applied to attend to present their work on creating and administering this blog. We were selected to host a roundtable discussion during the meeting entitled “Leadership Colors” where we led our respective tables in completing the activity to discover our leadership styles. We discussed how to apply our various leadership styles to our current work, and also examined how our strengths could benefit different work environments during our future careers. Here is more about our experiences at MLC:

Noelle: Attending MLC this spring was a great experience. We had the opportunity to meet and learn from so many people in different disciplines of MCHB training programs. At the beginning of the meeting, we were all given a ring of cards with our information on it to hand out as we were talking to new people. It was immediately clear (as from the name of the conference) that networking would be a large part of the conference, but the cards and the activities made it easy and fun! I really enjoyed getting outside of the nutrition realm and learning about the work that current and former trainees are doing in other programs. Some of my favorite presentations were about about making public places (particularly restaurants and the Cleveland zoo) more accessible and welcoming for people with various mental abilities. We also were able to support two of our classmates from the UMN Center for Leadership in MCH who presented their work with the Lactation Advocacy Committee and researching sexual activity among LGBTQIA+ youth experiencing homelessness. Overall, the meeting was an awesome opportunity. I hope to attend next year and would encourage anyone interested in applying as well!

Yetunde: The MLC meeting far exceeded my expectations this spring. As soon as the conference began, I was astonished by the number of training programs that were represented, many of which I wasn’t aware existed! It was wonderful to meet such a wide variety of people – of different races and ethnicities – that were involved in MCH in some capacity. As was mentioned previously, the networking ring of cards was a very creative way to get to know and connect with people! Many specific moments at MLC especially stuck with me. I really liked a presentation given by a social worker on how he applied his MCH training to reduce violence at the public school at which he worked. Another was about using Mhealth interventions to improve prenatal care and birth outcomes in the US. Overall, it was clear that each speaker had a passion for the topics they were presenting, and many even told their personal stories and journeys, which was very inspiring to hear. Attending this meeting fueled my love for MCH even further, and I am already looking forward for the opportunity to attend next year! 

 

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MLC Meeting Attendees

UMN Trainee Spotlight: Megan Radamaker

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Megan Radamaker is a MCH Trainee from the University of Minnesota. She is a second-year graduate student in the Coordinated Public Health Nutrition program. She is originally from Macomb, MI and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Food Science from Wayne State University in Detroit. Megan served as an AmeriCorp for the Cooking Matters Program in Detroit for one year prior to starting grad school. This post details the work she has been doing this year for the MCH Nutrition training grant. 

This school year I have had the opportunity to intern at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) in the Healthy Community Unit. The main project that I have worked on is creating resources for a pilot program around healthy retail. This work tied in nicely with my research assistant position from last year, which was with the STaple foods ORdinance Evaluation (STORE) study. This city wide ordinance is unique to Minneapolis and requires licensed grocery stores (including corner stores, gas stations, dollar stores, and pharmacies) to sell a certain amount of basic food items including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, eggs, and low-fat dairy. The goal of this policy is to improve food access, particularly in underserved neighborhoods and small food stores that do not currently stock these types of items. Food access is a big health equity issue in Minnesota, specifically in the Twin Cities. 

Retail stores play an important role in stocking healthy items that are both convenient and nutritious. At MDH I created a toolkit to help the grantees and store owners, that are involved with the pilot project, ease into creating healthy checkout lane(s) in their stores. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is a leader in work around healthy checkout. As part of my work at MDH I collaborated with our team to create healthy checkout standards to be used for our pilot project. We considered current and related standards such as Smart Snacks and Healthy Vending Standards in creating our own standards for healthy checkout. We were conscious to what foods would be allowed or restricted within the standards along with having affordable and accessible options available. I also created a list of items that meet these standards as a starting point for store owners that is available to them as part of the toolkit. 

Through my work as a grad student, and previously through AmeriCorp, I have found that people tend to want to eat healthier, but often don’t have the access to healthy and affordable foods or the knowledge to make healthy choices on their own. Nudging is a behavioral economics theory that helps make healthy choices an easy choice for consumers. This and other marketing strategies such as tips on placement and pricing are all part of the healthy checkout pilot program at MDH. Historically, checkout lanes tend to be filled with high calorie, low nutrient foods such as candy bars, chips, and soda pops. One reason for this is that manufacturers actually purchase shelving space in these areas where consumers often make impulse buys while waiting in line. The movement of healthy checkout lanes chooses the health of the customer and the community by assisting store owners in finding ways to sell products that consumers desire, are healthy, and are profitable for the store.

 

 

 

 

UMN Trainee Spotlight: Rachel Wirthlin

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Rachel Wirthlin is a MCH Trainee from the University of Minnesota. She is a second-year graduate student in the Coordinated Public Health Nutrition program. She is originally from Provo, Utah and graduated in Dietetics from Brigham Young University. This post details the work she hasbeen doing this year.

This year, I have had the privilege of working with the Bloomington School District in Bloomington, MN. Recently, the state of Minnesota has called all school districts to update their wellness policies. The guidelines have been very strict and school districts are no longer allowed to bring outside food that is not Smart Snack approved.

Smart Snack is a federal program that provides guidelines for snacks that are healthy and can be given to children in schools. This means that cake, cupcakes, candy, and other unhealthy snacks are no longer allowed for birthday parties, fundraisers, or other celebrations. Bloomington school district is part of this change.

It has been interesting being involved in developing evaluations for each school, creating resources for parents and teachers on what is allowed for snacks at school, and attending committee meetings and PTA meetings with the community. I attended a PTA meeting at a school that was particularly unhappy about these changes. It was a great opportunity to witness that change, especially public health change, is not always easy like we sometimes believe it is. After clearly communicating why the policy was in place and why they needed to make changes, some parents were able to accept the upcoming changes. However, there are still parents who do not believe that this policy should be in place and share their explicit opposition with us.

As schools get used to these changes, I believe that children may be able to be healthier and learn more about nutrition and receive the nutrients they need through foods that are not high in added sugars. Policy change is difficult, and it will take many years to get parents on board, but it is a slow process, and one I believe will work out in the end!

-Rachel Wirthlin

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UMN Trainee Spotlight: Yetunde Akingbemi

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Yetunde is a trainee at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Currently, she has joined a team working on a project assessing health outcomes of women and girls of color in sanctuary cities. In this blog post, she has introduced her team’s plan for this project. Future blog post(s) will continue to document her progress and results. 

 

Protecting the Health of Women and Girls of Color in Sanctuary Cities: A Public Health Perspective

Current immigration policies and climate have had several negative impacts on families and communities. These include fears of the system impacting health seeking behavior, barriers to access to health care, and increased stress, fear, and anxiety. The purpose of this project is to increase awareness of the public health impact that immigration policies have on the health of women and girls of color, and to document the potential of sanctuary cities as safety nets to ensure the well-being of families and communities.

Our research team plans to conduct a community-based participatory needs assessment, and collaborate with a local agency and community members to develop a policy brief and factsheets. The agency we are partnering with is the Saint Paul and Ramsey County Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (SPIP). The content and message of these factsheets will be determined by the women and girls involved in this project.

We will be focusing on several different outcomes while working with SPIP. These include specific birth outcomes such as low birth weight, preterm births, and infant mortality.

We also plan to focus on mental health in reports of stress, anxiety, depression, and the effects of bullying among school-aged children. We will research the effects of substance abuse and suicide among adolescents. Depression among mothers will be evaluated as well. This aspect of the project is especially interesting to me, as I have a passion for raising mental health awareness among pregnant and postpartum women. I am also excited for the opportunity to work with women and girls of color, as the health of this population is often overlooked.

Another aspect of the project will be investigating food access and the awareness, participation, and utilization of food assistance programs such as WIC, food pantries, and other services available for these populations. I am looking forward to using my background in dietetics to further evaluate the effect of food and nutrition on the women and children at SPIP.

Being a part of this project inspires me to work to improve the health outcomes of these women and children, and to be a voice for them.

-Yetunde Akingbemi, MCH Trainee, University of Minnesota