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Arnold School of Public Health


HPEB and EPID doctoral candidates receive 2017 Emerging Scholar in Childhood Obesity graduate research awards

November 27, 2017 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

Alicia Dahl and Carlene Mayfield have received the 2017 Emerging Scholar in Childhood Obesity graduate research awards. Now in its second year, these awards identify and support future leaders in the area of childhood obesity research through the generosity of Norman and Gerry Sue Arnold.

The students were recognized at the 2017 Gerry Sue and Norman J. Arnold Childhood Obesity Lecture in October. Each student received $1,000 to be used toward professional development activities, including resources and supplies for data collection, travel and registration at conferences, workshops, or other continuing education/training opportunities of importance to obesity research.

“These awards are important because they provide support for future scholars in the area of childhood obesity,” says exercise science associate professor Michael Beets, who leads the he Arnold Childhood Obesity Initiative of the Gerry Sue and Norman J. Arnold Institute on Aging. “The funds that accompany these awards will assist them in developing additional skills related to this field.”

I think it’s important to approach public health with a mindset of collaboration. In order to influence the health of the public, it’ll take more than one person, one idea, and one lens.

-Alicia Dahl, HPEB Ph.D. candidate

“Find a topic or problem you love learning about, so that your passion keeps you focused and motivated,” says Dahl. For the doctoral candidate, that topic is childhood obesity.

Dahl’s professional focus on childhood obesity began with her research on food environment, obesity, and nutrition behaviors of mother-child dyads when she was earning a master’s in health promotion at the University of Delaware. She then worked as a research specialist for a nutrition education program in the School District of Philadelphia, but something was missing.

“I was really struggling to see impact in my work with the nutrition education program and wanted to focus on health behaviors and other factors that influence childhood obesity,” she says. “I felt that I needed more education on how to influence this growing public health problem that is near to my heart.”

After researching top public health schools and connecting with mentor and associate professor Brie Turner-McGrievy, Dahl enrolled in the Arnold School’s Ph.D. in health promotion, education, and behavior (HPEB) program. She joined the Prevention Research Center’s Health in Pregnancy and Postpartum (HIPP) Study as a graduate research assistant, which is designed to help women have a healthy pregnancy and stay healthy after they deliver.

Now the HPEB Olga I. Ogousson Award recipient is leading a related study, Healthy Motivations for Moms-to-be, for her dissertation project. Using elements of the HIPP Study, Dahl uses a mobile app and website, developed through the TecHealth Summer Sponsorship Program, to provide social support and behavioral goals for pregnant women living across the United States.   

After her 2018 graduation, Dahl plans to pursue a career in academia where she can teach and mentor students while continuing her research on childhood obesity. She credits her mentors, HIPP Study principal investigators Sara Wilcox (exercise science) and Jihong Liu (epidemiology and biostatistics) and co-investigator Turner-McGrievy, for helping her learn the value of teamwork.

“I think it’s important to approach public health with a mindset of collaboration,” she says. “In order to influence the health of the public, it’ll take more than one person, one idea, and one lens.” 

My big-picture hope...is to demonstrate to health systems and policy makers that investment in the community-level factors has quantifiable benefits for reducing clinical outcomes, such as readmission rates and healthcare system utilization.

-Carlene Mayfield, EPID Ph.D. candidate

 

Originally from Dallas, Mayfield spent her youth and early adult years in Texas. She then moved to Kansas City where she earned a master’s in social and behavioral health at the University of Kansas Medical Center and coordinated a behavior modification treatment program for low-income, minority families in an effort to combat childhood obesity.

After gaining experience as a community health research coordinator/analyst, Mayfield was recruited by UofSC to join the Behavioral-Biomedical Interface Program, a National Institutes of Health T32 pre-doctoral research training grant that provides interdisciplinary training for the next generation of behavioral scientists in epidemiology, exercise science, and psychology doctoral programs. Now as a doctoral candidate in the epidemiology program, she is developing an R36 dissertation grant application for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality with professors Anwar Merchant, Melinda Forthofer, and the Academy for Population Health Innovation Director Dr. Michael Dulin.

“The general focus of my research is to explore the use of big data and the technological innovations for data as a tool to understand the link between social determinants of health and clinical outcomes within health systems,” Mayfield explains. “My big-picture hope in this area is to demonstrate to health systems and policy makers that investment in the community-level factors has quantifiable benefits for reducing clinical outcomes, such as readmission rates and healthcare system utilization.” 

A recent project of Mayfield’s used electronic medical records to explore severe childhood obesity prevalence examining the interaction of socio-demographic factors across years of age. Long term, she plans to evaluate the impact of social determinants of health on clinical outcomes related to childhood obesity, support the evaluation of current community intervention programs for childhood obesity (e.g. Healthy Cabarrus, the group she partnered with in the aforementioned project), and explore the interaction of community level factors with clinical treatment of childhood obesity.  

“Use the opportunity to explore your boundaries, challenge your assumptions, and make mistakes in a supportive environment,” says Mayfield to current and future public health students. “Graduate school is a process that helps you figure out your identity as a critical thinker and learner. The best opportunities I have had to discover this for myself have been from situations that I originally perceived as failures. Don’t be afraid to lean into these opportunities!”