Recently for one of my courses’ assignment, Public Health Foundations, I had to interview two faculty members in the School of Public Health and I chose to talk to two members who have a strong background in nutrition and health in the department of Applied Health Science, namely Dr. Alice Lindeman and Dr. Krisha Thiagarajah. The interview with Dr. Alice Lindeman was conducted along with my classmate Bhagyashree More. Having a Masters in Nutritional Sciences and my current major being Health Behavior, I have a strong interest in the link between dietary behaviors and obesity among school children and middle-aged women in the United States (US), which explains my choice of these faculty members
Though I knew the connection between nutrition and public health, it was interesting to gain perspectives on how the field of nutrition is becoming such an important component of public health from the two faculty members. For instance I knew from the existing literature how diet is intricately linked to health and in line with the increase in the prevalence of several chronic conditions such as obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart disease, it is becoming increasingly important to identify the social, cultural, economic and environmental factors that contribute to the risk of malnutrition among populations, not only in developed nations such as the US but also in developing countries. This brings to mind how nutrition fits in the socio-ecological model of the determinants of health among populations.
While Dr. Thiagarajah was quite succinct and short about her similar views on the connection between health and nutrition, Dr. Lindeman further added that Public Health (PH) is viewed as the “Jack of all Trades”, and many times, people wear different hats to suit the purpose of whatever health issues they are investigating into field. However, she was also clear on the fact that during the past years, students who are studying nutrition and health, should be equally knowledgeable about how does the food service industry work and nowadays, it is equally important to know about restaurants and food vendors operate in their delivery of food to customers.
When asked to talk about their research, Dr. Thiagarajah briefly mentioned her interest into assessing the perceptions and attitudes of college students regarding plant-based diets and she is equally interested in international nutrition. However, she also believes research is time-consuming and it is often difficult to conduct research in other countries, given her many duties and obligations. Dr. Lindeman talked about her research on Head Start among low-income school children in Indiana. Head Start is a Federal Program that promotes the cognitive, social and emotional development of low-income school children under five and more information can be found here. She is specifically interested in how more fruits and vegetables can be promoted among low-income children while also reducing plate waste in this population. Through the Head Start program, she is also working on a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to lower sodium in the food served in cafeterias called the Monroe Sodium Reduction Healthy Communities. In addition to malnutrition among low-income groups in Indiana, Dr. Thiagarajah also mentioned how low birth weight and smoking are growing public health concerns among pregnant women and nutrition education is much needed in this target population.
Common challenges faced as a dietitian by Dr. Lindeman was getting her voice heard, especially as a non-physician and when she is considered as the spokesperson outside the medical profession. However, both faculty members were really clear on how they love their professions and it gives them broader perspectives on what is really happening in the field and they get to work closely with different groups of populations who are dealing with diverse health issues and have diverse needs. Interestingly, as from high school, Dr. Lindeman was interested in dietetics. Contrarily to the trend during that period when girls would either choose to become a nurse or teacher, she knew she wanted to gain experience in the field of dietetics.
As advice to students interested in the clinical aspect of nutrition and public health, Dr. Lindeman also highly recommends these students to become a nurse practitioner since then you are in charge of all the counseling and the treatment part when dealing with patients. Moreover, nowadays, you no longer need to be a nurse to be a nurse practitioner! For those students interested in gaining a job in food industries, she advises them to get a degree in marketing and business, regardless of their health or nutrition degree. Simply because nutrition in industries is all about marketing and behavior. This is an important step to look down the road especially if the food company you will be working at will help in meeting the expenses of the degree.
After reflecting on both interviews, I got a broader sense of how nutrition fits in the whole picture of Public Health. In addition, I got to know more about the current research projects these faculty members are working on and where do their research interests lie. Even though I have previously worked under Dr. Thiagarajah’s guidance for one of my research project, I got to know additional details about other projects she is working on. Most of all, I enjoyed talking to them and knowing their views on how to eat healthy. I really think they did come up with simple, yet interesting ways and advice on how to eat healthy!
Trishnee is a first year PhD student in the Department of Applied Health Sciences and her major is Health Behavior. She was born and raised in Mauritius and is currently having the best time pursuing her doctoral studies in the wonderful B-town. Her hobbies include cooking, reading romantic novels, and playing with her pets. Anything related to health highly interests her and she hopes to reach out to others on health-related issues that matter.
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