UTK Trainee Spotlight: Marissa Black & Marissa McElrone

This blog post highlights the work of two funded MCH trainees from the University of Tennessee, Marissa Black and Marissa McElrone. Black (left) has been a funded MCH Nutrition Leadership, Education and Training Program trainee since January 2018, and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Health Nutrition. McElrone (right), a funded MCH trainee since January 2016, is a PhD candidate pursing her doctoral degree in Community Nutrition. This blog post discusses their involvement in a recent university-wide, public policy challenge. Black was an enrolled student on the Public Health Nutrition Policy Team, while McElrone offered teaching and mentoring as a teaching assistant for the course/challenge.

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Fresh Food for All: Improving Local MCH through Policy

The Howard Baker Center Grand Policy Challenge (HBCGPC) started in 2013, as a practical experience for University of Tennessee students to address real issues in their communities and beyond, through public policy engagement. The HBCGPC, based on the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute Policy Challenge, required students to identify, research and analyze an issue, identify and engage stakeholders, critically think as a team, and develop innovative solutions through policy. The Public Health Nutrition Policy Team’s policy, Fresh Food for All, focused on improving the 2018 WIC Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) redemption rates in Knox County, Tennessee.

Marissa Black: Participating in the policy challenge was a rewarding experience that helped me apply the basics of policy development to an issue affecting our local MCH population. Our team consisted of students with different research interests in the fields of Public Health and Nutrition. Some members studied food insecurity, others researched gardening programs, and one member was an actual farmer who had participated in the FMNP the previous year! Having a stakeholder in our team made it easier to build connections with other stakeholders, and gave us a unique perspective on the issue.

In the beginning stages of our policy brief development, our team met with local stakeholders including WIC educators, farmers market representatives, and food policy council-members to negotiate the terms of the policy. It was exciting to bring together an inter-professional group of people with different roles in the community who were all passionate about improving the lives of WIC families. The policy challenge helped me develop skills in critical thinking, negotiation, interdisciplinary team building, and of course policy and advocacy!

Feel free to view the policy brief, video, and blog post we created for the policy challenge!

Picture1The Fresh Food for All policy group presenting at the Nutrition Education Discourse at the University of Tennessee

Marissa McElrone: During my first year of graduate school, I participated in the HBCGPC as a student enrolled in the public health nutrition policy course. My policy team’s brief entitled Feed the Garden Feed the Kids, focused on an innovative approach to incorporate urban agriculture into the USDA Summer Feeding Programs of Knoxville, Tennessee. The experience helped develop my knowledge and understanding of the policy process and how it impacts MCH populations. The experiential learning of the HBCGPC fostered critical thinking, team building, and pushed me to think of innovative ways to improve the lives of MCH populations through policy. Currently, as the teaching assistant for the public health nutrition policy course, I have the opportunity to develop and mentor other students through the same process. Not only am I strengthening the skills I fostered as an enrolled student, but I am now able to help develop others in these same leadership competencies.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

OHSU (Western Partner) Trainee Spotlight: Natalie Damen

Natalie Damen is an MCH trainee from Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon. She is a second-year graduate student in the combined Masters of Science in Human Nutrition and Dietetic Internship program. Natalie received her undergraduate degree in Nutrition from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.  In this blog post, she features her thesis research.

 

Eating For Two: Dietary Intake During Pregnancy and Infant Body Composition

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The question of should pregnant women really be “eating for two” has been in the media, textbooks, and even passed down through families and generations for years. The developmental origins of health and disease hypothesis have helped shape what we now know about the prenatal environment and risk of chronic disease later in life. Recent evidence has also specifically linked infant body composition at birth to an increased risk of adult chronic disease. The goal of my research is to investigate the association between maternal dietary fat intake during pregnancy and infant body composition at birth.

My research includes 79 healthy pregnant women with a singleton gestation who were enrolled at 12 to 16 weeks gestation. The 2005 Block Food Frequency questionnaire was used to assess dietary intake at 12-16 weeks, 24-28 weeks, and 37 weeks gestation. Infant anthropometry and flank skinfold measurements were taken within 24 hours of birth, and then the Catalano equation was used to calculate infant fat mass.

After analyzing preliminary results, I submitted an abstract to present at the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) Nutrition 2018 conference. My abstract was just recently accepted for a poster presentation, and I will be traveling to Boston, MA this June to share my research with other nutrition scientists. I am excited for this opportunity to network with other nutrition professionals and learn more about cutting-edge nutrition research.

Specific dietary recommendations for pregnant women for quantity and quality of dietary fat intake are lacking. I am hopeful that my results expand our current knowledge of maternal dietary intake and infant body composition, and will help inform the optimal maternal diet for beneficial birth outcomes. I am looking forward to seeing how the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans develop over the next few years to possibly see pregnant women included for the first time in the 2020-2025 guidelines.

-Natalie Damen, MCH Nutrition Trainee, Oregon Health and Science University

UC Berkeley Trainee Spotlight: Christopher Viya Chau

Chris is a trainee at the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently pursuing his doctorate in public health, with an emphasis in public health nutrition, and is graduating in May 2018. This blog highlights his current research on childhood obesity prevention among black and white preadolescent girls.Headshot Chau Chris 9Mar17 copy

 

Continuing the Fight Against Childhood Obesity

 

While the childhood obesity rates have appeared to plateau, the current prevalence is still alarmingly high in the US. The racial disparity persists as black youth are disproportionately obese compared to their white counterparts. My current research broadly examines racial and socioeconomic disparities in cardiovascular risk among black and white girls who participated in the longitudinal National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Growth and Health Study (NGHS). More specifically, I have investigated the modifiable risk factors associated with eating disturbances, abdominal obesity, and cardiovascular biomarkers.

 

My research in the field of obesity prevention aims to expand the current literature and inform future policy. One of my studies has examined the influence of sugary beverage intake and abdominal obesity from childhood to late adolescence. My other study aims to extend the current knowledge on the association between abdominal obesity measures and cardiovascular biomarkers among minority youth—an area with limited research using longitudinal data.

 

While my doctoral experience had focused heavily on epidemiology and statistics, my overarching goal is to conduct applied research in obesity prevention to inform public health practice, policies, and interventions among communities of color. In the future, I would like to collaborate with community stakeholders, technology experts, and behavioral economists to develop creative environmental strategies that nudge children to improve their diet and physical activity.

 

 

–Christopher Viya Chau, MCH Nutrition Trainee, University of California, Berkeley

 

 

UTK Trainee Spotlight: Marissa Black

UntitledMarissa Black is a graduate student studying Public Health Nutrition at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She has been an MCH trainee since January 2018. She will complete her Dietetic Internship in 2020 and hopes to work in pediatrics as a registered dietitian.

Every Spring and Fall semester, the Public Health Nutrition Program at the University of Tennessee hosts the Promoting Healthy Weight Colloquium. The colloquia focus on assessing, preventing, and treating obesity in the maternal and child population. This Spring’s colloquium focused on interprofessional collaborations to promote healthy weight.

This Spring was my first opportunity to help organize a colloquium as an MCH trainee, and I was invited to promote the event on live tv. One of our former MCH Nutrition Leadership trainees who has connections with the local media was able to secure a spot on the set of Live at Five at Four, a local news segment here in Knoxville, Tennessee. I was nervous when I found out I would be on tv, but after preparing a script and rehearsing over and over again, I finally felt confident enough to deliver the information.

Being on the set of a news channel was a surreal experience. I had always imagined there would be an audience, but the studio was surprisingly quiet. The camera crew and anchors were very personable and made me feel more comfortable about speaking on live tv. I now feel like a local celebrity! I’m very thankful for the opportunity I had to practice communicating on camera.

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Marissa joined former MCH Nutrition Leadership Trainee Lee Murphy on the local news

UC Berkeley Nutrition Spotlight: Ronli Levi

At the end of February, the second year Public Health Nutrition students had the opportunity to present their final capstone projects. Over the course of the last year, students have been working tirelessly with faculty, preceptors, and one another to conduct literature reviews, analyze data and develop a framework of recommendations for complex Public Health Nutrition problems.

Among the presenters were a number of second year MCH nutrition trainees. ronli
Trainees presented on a wide range of topics, drawing on both original research and case study analyses. Examples of projects included a quantitative analysis of the diet quality of breakfast in school-aged children before and after the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, a global case study on the maternal nutrition needs of Syrian refugees and an examination of the association between environmental risk factors and BMI. After many months of work, it was inspiring to hear all of the research being done on so many different aspects of MCH nutrition.

I was also able to present my own research findings on a study that examined the association between food security status and health care use among low income Californians. Food insecurity has been increasingly associated with the development of chronic diseases and poor disease management. Furthermore, evidence has shown many patients are being forced to choose between purchasing food or their medications. The goal of this research was to better understand the extent to which food insecurity contributes to healthcare use in order to inform policies that better align our healthcare system with social determinants of health interventions. In the future, I hope to continue exploring ways in which we can create better access to food in order to improve the overall health and wellbeing of individuals and families.

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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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